I have been thinking a lot about adulthood lately. At 19, being an adult meant that I was no longer under maternal supervision. I could stay up as late as I wanted, I could cuss like a sailor if I felt like it, and I could come and go as I pleased. Clearly, 19-year-old me had a very narrow definition of adulthood. I also was quite unprepared in spite of my mother’s best intentions. She taught me how to think for myself, and she made sure I had other skills — I speak fluent English, don’t I? —, but I barely had any practical knowhow. For starters, the only things I knew how to cook were Nicaraguan fried rice, scrambled eggs and toast. That’s hardly a diet. I spent the next three years learning how to fend for myself. If anything, that was the most valuable lesson I got from my German adventure. I learned to cook.
I flunked out of medical school at 22. It was my first real failure. Paradoxically, I consider it the best thing that could have happened. I had been an “A” student up to then, but I had never been really challenged. School was easy, and since a good education was the ticket to a successful adulthood, my plan was simple enough. All I had to do was graduate, get a job, get married, buy a house somewhere, have a couple of kids and then do whatever it was that old people did. The idea that I could fail never crossed my mind.
The original plan was over, but life went on. I have my mother to thank for that. I have never asked her about this, but I do think she understood that being declared an adult doesn’t magically make you one. When I came home, she never made me feel like a failure. If anything, my mother made me feel there was no shame in starting over. It was because of her that I went back to school and graduated. It was also because of her that I have been able to reinvent myself time and again without much fear of failure. After all, flunking out of medical school is hard to surpass. The latest version of myself is an adult who regrets nothing.
In a couple weeks, several of my students will graduate from Trinity University. May you all become adults who have nothing to regret. Best of luck, class of 2013!
Cynara Medina is a visiting professor in the department of communication.