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Lorena King: The Value of Determination

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Lorena King on-air at UrbanKnightsRadio.com. Photo courtesy of Lorena King.

The story of Lorena King’s 14-year journey to the graduation stage of the Academy of Art University is one of true resilience and determination. Directors and students wiped away tears as King, valedictorian, spoke poignantly at the Spring 2016 commencement ceremony about her experience as a first generation Mexican-American, her six years in the Army, and overcoming great adversity, propelled by her dream as an artist to attend the Academy.

Growing up in El Centro, California, in an exclusively Spanish-speaking home, King didn’t learn to speak English until the fifth-grade. A transition met with many tears and hours spent trying to complete simple homework assignments. It was King’s determination however, a value instilled by her mother, an immigrant field worker, that helped her overcome this.

By high school, King was fluent in English and was beginning to explore her innately creative side in the performing arts. Her love of the arts blossomed and by the time she graduated, she knew art school was the next step. But not just any art school. After visiting the Academy in San Francisco, King knew this was where she wanted to call home.

“I knew this was where I wanted to be,” the 33-year-old said. “I knew this was where I was going to learn what I needed for a real job.” 

Her dream, however bright, was clouded by not having the immediate means of affording a college education. 

To King, this was simply a detour, a way to take a different path to the Academy. That path was the Army. King spent six years and nine months in the service, ending her career as a staff sergeant. A year-and-a-half of her term was spent in Baghdad at the height of the Iraq War.

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King during her time in the Army. Photo courtesy of Lorena King.

“The Army is part of who I am,” King said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for that. I am a veteran, but I don’t find it something heroic. I had a job to do.”

It was her time stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, however, that truly changed her life. It was here that she met Raymond King, her husband of 10 years. 

When her term was over, King and her husband lived in Miami working as Army civilians, but King’s creative side was still alive. 

“The government stuff was great and a big part of my life, but it wasn’t where I wanted to stay,” she said.

With a dream of graduating from the Academy still in the forefront of her mind, King and her husband bravely moved across the country to San Francisco. With the help of the military’s Yellow Ribbon Program, she enrolled in the School of Communications & Media Technologies. Although her love for performing arts remained, she decided to diversify her skills with a degree that still enabled her to perform.  

As a student, King was more committed and determined than ever. She was music director of UrbanKnightsRadio.com for two years, and was a host for COM’s reality competition Academy Idol as well as the Chinese New Year Parade. Additionally, she completed an internship with Spanish-language media company, Tuiris. 

And her instructors absolutely raved about her. 

“I wish I had a thousand Lorena Kings,” said Jan Yanehiro, director of the School of Communications & Media Technologies. Yanehiro shared that she spent extra hours working with her former student after class for weeks rehearsing Academy Idol, a request of King’s.

Yanehiro was so impressed with King’s drive as a student that she personally wrote to the Academy’s Spring 2016 Commencement committee, because as Yanehiro put it: “She had to be valedictorian.” 

“The sky’s the limit for Lorena,” said Yanehiro.

Matty Staudt, COM instructor and general manager of UrbanKnightsRadio.com, agrees. As one of the first students involved in the radio program, King has left a legacy. 

“Lorena was always a student that other students could look up to and someone I could always rely on,” said Staudt. “When we think of what we want our students to be when they graduate, Lorena really exemplifies all of those things.” 

In June 2016 King became the first person in her family to graduate from college. 

Today, King works for Tuiris as creative director and hopes one day to produce multimedia stories of veterans’ assimilation into civilian life. She works late hours and the little free time she has is spent with her three-year-old daughter, Alexa. 

Just as her parents did, King said she will instill the value of determination into her daughter and teach her to never give up. 

“Everyday, I get to look at Alexa’s face, my daughter, and she fuels me,” King said at the end of her valedictorian speech in 2016. “I push harder, because she makes me want to be a better person.”

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King worked as a camera operator as part of Magnetic Image Video’s production team during the recent solar eclipse in Casper, Wyoming. Photo courtesy of Lorena King.