Cecilia Aragon is the Seattle author of Flying Free (Blackstone Publishing, 2020), a memoir of her journey from fearful child to airshow pilot.
She’s now a professor at the University of Washington, the mother of two children, and the winner of many awards for her work. She’s published hundreds of articles, co-authored the book Writers in the Secret Garden (MIT Press, 2019), taught astronauts to fly, and worked with Nobel Prize winners. Her innovative research has been lauded by President Obama.
How I Got Here
When I was a child, a teacher said, “Why are you working so hard in math? You should be getting a boyfriend.”
And, as a first-generation Latina whose parents spoke with thick accents, I was always placed in the slow reading groups in school.
So how did I become the first Latina full professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Washington?
I took a detour — into the air!
I overcame my fears, learned to fly and became an aerobatic pilot. Then I applied what I learned from flying to my technical career.
Story of Flying Free
I was a timid child, painfully shy and afraid of everything from heights to people. How did I become a death-defying daredevil and aerobatic pilot? And what did it mean that I yearned to take such risks? I’ve been wanting to write a memoir for over two decades to answer these questions.
But ironically, writing a memoir scared me more than pointing my single-seat experimental plane at the ground and opening the throttle until I was roaring earthward at 250 mph. Opening up my inmost secrets? Baring my life to anybody who might want to peer in?
How I Overcame Fear
Growing up in a small town in Indiana, the daughter of immigrants, I often felt like an outsider. It seemed that letting anyone know who I really was inside could be dangerous.
But in the end, the urge to communicate won out. After I learned to fly and eventually represented the United States at the World Championships, I was invited to give talks about my journey from fearful child to champion pilot.
Although I was terrified of public speaking, I found I wanted to tell my story. It was the kindness of strangers, and these audiences’ enthusiastic feedback about my story, that finally gave me the courage to set out upon a journey of another kind.
So many wonderful people have supported me on this journey, and I’m deeply grateful. I’ll be posting stories about how it all happened, including excerpts from the memoir, on my blog in the upcoming months.