Message From an Alumnus: Nicole Forlan, UCSB, Class of 2012
Graduation could not come soon enough for me during my undergraduate years at UC Santa Barbara. However, when I finally got to that point, reality and real life slapped me in the face. Nobody warned me that college is not the golden ticket to success in this world; or that having a degree is not the key to enter any door you choose. Some of us were sold the dream that college makes life a cakewalk afterwards. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for all of us.
I graduated in June 2012, but less than a week later I had more than just society paralyzing me. I underwent surgery to have what was supposed to be a simple spinal correction. However, I woke up to a hurricane of feelings and emotions. The doctor ran a medical hammer down my legs only for me to realize I had lost mobility from the knee down in both. At the age of 22, all my lifelong dreams and ambitions had flashed before my eyes in a matter of seconds.
Throughout undergrad I had the goal of becoming a doctor. Although challenging, I knew I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life toward helping others. However, that dream began to get a hazy upon entering my sophomore year. After my first time volunteering in a hospital, I suddenly realized medical school was not the route I wanted, or needed to go. Fortunately I did see the power that nurses hold in their ability to impact others, which completely changed my mindset. However, I still had to combat the feeling that becoming a nurse could be the biggest letdown to my family, friends and many others who believed in me along the way. Despite my uneasiness, I was determined that becoming a nurse was my way to leave a mark on people’s lives.
The day I left the hospital in a wheelchair, I felt humbled by my experience there. Yet, I arrived at the place I called “home” my entire life only to discover that I was no longer welcome. My parents asked me to find somewhere else to recover. Inadvertently they also told me I needed somewhere else to heal and somewhere else to find the love I needed to overcome this challenge. I learned quickly that the only person I could trust 100% of the time was myself.
For months after the surgery, I felt lost with no direction. I had to literally and figuratively learn to walk again on my own two feet; both on solid ground, and through this new phase in life. However, the one thing that remained certain was my determination to overcome and spend the rest of my life helping others. Throughout these months I learned not only how to walk again, but also how to bare the pain and see past my own self-doubt. Although, my fight was still far from over.
I regained enough strength to restart working full-time and taking classes part-time. Something big needed to happen for me soon, so when I discovered Duke University School of Nursing, I grew excited about the possibility of pursuing my dreams again. The thought of moving across the country to do so was scary, but my postgrad experiences taught me to embrace that feeling of discomfort. I knew if I put my mind to it, I had the willpower to see it through.
After all was said and done, I can truly say that nursing is the one thing in life that gives me joy, breaks my heart, pushes me to be my best, allows me to love freely, and makes me feel like I have purpose. Just like undergoing surgery and waking up partially-paralyzed changed my life, nursing has done the same. Attending Duke University School of Nursing paved a road that allows me to continually grow and explore myself.
Yes, school was challenging and being away from family was hard. But what I found most difficult to combat was my own self-doubt. Attending an institution where everyone is highly intelligent–and most come from privileged backgrounds–made a young African-American woman from Long Beach, California question her place and belonging. Being surrounded by individuals who could not identify with my struggle as a woman of color was eye-opening. I had to learn quickly that I did not need to prove myself to my fellow peers or faculty members. I was already enrolled, and the only person that could truly defeat me was myself. This belief ultimately granted me the courage to speak up for what I believe in as a young woman trying to become one of the pioneers this world needs.
It is the moments that we overwhelm with a mixture of emotions that true change and growth occur. Inevitably we find ourselves in places we never thought possible. Feelings of discomfort are something I learned to embrace not as a place of helplessness, but a place for me to push myself and discover a new strength within.
In summation, the late Maya Angelou stated: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”