After 25 Years, John Latham Goes Back To School
By Brad Goins
John Latham has long been a local emcee and entertainer. He has a charismatic and irrepressible personality. He’s filled big notebooks with prank letters he’s written to major corporations; visited every Major League Baseball park in existence — that’s 30 parks total; and written a detailed history and appraisal of each one. You can find these writings as well as photos of the ballparks on Latham’s Facebook page.
And he’s done all this with little higher education. Twenty-five years ago, Latham spent what he describes as a “very uneventful” year at McNeese State University. He felt that for him, this educational experience was “a continuation of high school.”
Recently, a series of circumstances arose in his life which opened up “a window of opportunity” that made a return to higher ed a real option. At this juncture, long-time local marketing guru Peter O’Carroll suggested Latham consider enrolling in the Digital Communications program at Sowela Technical Community College.
Latham, who can get along with anybody, had no first day jitters about meeting a lot of students much younger than himself. “What was bugging me,” he says, is that he “knew things had changed” in education over the last 25 years.
For instance, although he was a Digital Communications major, he’d never used a Mac before. Before he began, he had not even known the names of the computer programs he is now using.
And he found it daunting to have to take “basic classes” again. In a typical Lathamism, he asks, “Do I still know how to dangle a participle?”
‘Methodical And Businesslike’
But his attitude and motivation were on point. When he started at Sowela, he was “methodical and businesslike.” And that’s good, because he says his present studies are “labor intensive … Everything I’m doing I’ve never done before.”
Before the fall semester began, Latham approached his upcoming math classes with some degree of trepidation. He points out that the last time he studied math, Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas. At the time, Latham was learning things that he’s “never used once in 25 years.”
He says that during this earlier stage of his education “numbers were OK” for him. It was all the talk about them that he found challenging.
Now, at Sowela, he’s taking college algebra. “I’m doing OK,” he says.
He may be doing a bit better than OK. Latham had a 4.0 average in his first semester at Sowela and a 3.9 in his second. Of course, he’s on the Dean’s List. That “methodical and businesslike” attitude seems to have paid off just fine. “I’ve done really well,” he admits. “I’m very motivated to get it done and get it done well.”
Among the classes he’s taken so far have been photography, Photoshopping and videography. His instructors have included Darrell Buck, Erik Jessen, Brookin Alexander and “Thunder” John. O’Carroll has also instructed Latham.
Second Time Around
In spite of the large age gap between himself and most of his fellow students, Latham finds that “age is not an issue” at Sowela. In fact, he thinks going back to school a few years down the line is an excellent educational option.
“I recommend it. I’ve met plenty of people my age who went back. It was a lot easier” the second time.
Like most of today’s college students, Latham must have a job to pay the bills. After class, he works on a mosquito truck.
As with many in the Lake Area, COVID-19 came into Latham’s life on March 13. “All classes switched to virtual learning,” he says.
His classes had virtual meetings. Teachers tended to begin the meetings by giving instructions. Then they left. “There wasn’t anybody to talk to,” said Latham. If he had a question, he simply emailed it to the teacher.
“I was very happy with it,” said Latham. Still, he says, “I prefer being on campus. If you have a question, the teacher’s right there.”
One can’t help but admire Latham’s drive and energy. He’s managing to ace a program that would be difficult for anyone. And I have no doubt that even with the education, the job and the coronavirus, he’ll still find a way to go right on with his major league ballpark project.