C&Co10: 10 Years Since College Graduation

2019 is a year of big milestones for my family and for Constellation & Co. May 2019 marks 10 years since my husband, Brad, and I graduated from Ringling College of Art & Design. Later in 2009, we took a cross country road trip, moved to Seattle, and got married. 2009 was also the year that I started designing and printing greeting cards in the spare bedroom of our first Seattle apartment and selling them on Etsy. I’m carrying around so many thoughts and feelings as I anticipate this series of tenth anniversaries!

In an effort to commemorate this decade of life experiences, I’m rolling out a campaign called: C&Co10. Throughout the rest of 2019, you can look forward to blog posts, YouTube videos, throwback photos, and other forms of nostalgia. Here on the blog, I’ll tell stories and share lists of the top 10 things I’ve learned on a variety of topics. I’ll eventually end the series with a major announcement and a glimpse forward to the next 10 years. Are you ready? Let’s get started.

The Date: May 2009
The Place: Sarasota, Florida
The Occasion: My College Graduation

I completed my 4 years of college at Ringling College of Art & Design, a private visual arts school in southwest Florida. I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Graphic & Interactive Communications. I graduated with honors, which seemed very important at the time, but the degree of honor exited my brain at some point in the last 10 years. I started college by moving into a dorm with my best friend from high school, Amanda. I ended college by celebrating with my fiancé, Brad. After 10 years, my college memories are a bit of a blur. I’m far enough out that I’ve forgotten most of the projects, forgotten many of the teachers, and forgotten all of the grades I received. I’ve distilled down what I do remember into this handy list:

TEN THINGS I’VE LEARNED…about college in the 10 years since graduation:

  1. I could have (& should have) gotten more sleep and I would still have been just as successful.
    A bizarre phenomenon happened in my mind as art school student. I was lead to believe that spending the maximum amount of time available on a project would make that project better. It might have, but probably only the first one. The more lack of sleep I racked up, the more irrational and obsessive I became. I spent countless nights moving pixels around until the sun came up. While I felt very important at the time, I learned to burn out my body and mind as sacrificial payment for my work. I’ve been unlearning that lesson for the last 10 years. I firmly believe that I could have built better boundaries for the benefit of my physical & mental health, and still have succeeded in learning and getting good grades.

  2. Clean, efficient work and plenty of sleep are actually the secret to long term success.
    Few effective bosses celebrate their employees pulling all nighters. You don’t get paid extra for them, and they’re actually a symptom of poor planning & inefficiency during working hours. As my own boss, I know that working through the night will just make my head groggy, and will blow the rest of my week. I recognize late nights of work as a wake up call for how I’m spending my time and how many unnecessary things I’m saying yes to.

  3. It’s so much easier to make friends in school than it is as an adult. Cherish that time while you have it.
    I spent a lot of time in college feeling guilty about the time I spent away from my desk and the computer lab, goofing off with friends. Looking back, those silly adventures with college friends are my favorite memories from those 4 years. I miss having a group of people with similar interests and goals living in close proximity. I miss popping my head out of my door and grabbing whoever was around to go have an adventure. I wish I’d said yes to a few more adventures, and I wish I’d felt less guilty about taking that time.

  4. You’re not actually all that mature between 18-22, and you have a lot left to learn.

    Learning to eat healthy meals, sleep an appropriate amount of time, and navigate relationships are just as important, or perhaps even more important, educational opportunities than the classes you’re enrolled in. Make mistakes, get messy, and freak out - these things are inevitable - but learn from your mistakes and failures, and do better. Celebrate those learning experiences just as much as the ones you get a grade for.

  5. Ask for help and get help when you need it.

    I closed the door on my high school life hard when I arrived on campus. I wanted to separate myself from that life and the hurts & struggles experienced in those years. I thought that 40 miles and a new set of friends was enough to outrun my old life. It turns out that no matter how far you travel, your baggage comes with you. (I had to learn this again when I moved to Seattle.) My freshman year of college was really, really hard. Stepping through the doorway of my college’s counseling center was a big step for me. It didn’t “fix” all my problems and struggles, but it started me on a path of healing and working on my mental health that has carried me through the last 10 years.

  6. No matter what your college tells you, the job search is on your own shoulders.

    I believed the hype. I believed that the name of the college on my diploma would pave the way to a job for me. It didn’t. I believed that my GPA and the cords around my shoulders on graduation day would make a big difference. They didn’t. I say these things with absolutely no sense of anger or frustration with my school. I’m sure their job placement department helped a ton of my fellow graduates. It just didn’t help me, and I felt really let down at the time. In my chosen city, 3,000 miles from my alma mater, the institution’s name didn’t have a lot of pull. I also graduated at the height of the recession, and regardless of my efforts and my college’s efforts, there weren’t a lot of jobs to slip into. Getting my first jobs (regardless of whether or not I hated them), came from sending a lot of emails and being relentless in my search and follow up.

  7. As much as you learned during college, you’ll need to learn twice as much in the next 4 years.

    The messages on graduation day are all about your beautiful, bright future. It’s easy to get emotionally attached to dreams of exactly how bright and how beautiful your future will be. Unfortunately, no one steps out of their cap gown and directly into an incredible new life. The post-college era will be full of mistakes, harsh lessons, and growing pains. You’ll be faced each day with just how many things they didn’t teach you in college. You’ll wake up each morning to a new weight on your shoulders. You can skip a few classes, but you can’t skip your adult life. You can’t really negotiate with the due dates on your bills like you can with a professor. Don’t get me wrong, the post-college days are full of incredible new adventures, too! I just don’t want you to get slapped in the face with reality the way I did. Keep reality firmly seated in the chair next to you during that graduation ceremony. The next days will be good, but they will be hard. Be prepared.

  8. Your professors can teach you what they know, but they can’t teach you about your passions.

    I spent 4 years of college tamping down the things I was truly passionate about, in favor of the things that I thought I could get hired to do. When I graduated and realized there were no jobs, I had to spend time relearning the skill of being myself and following my passions. I spent so much time in college learning how to build websites in Flash (something I hated), because I was told that it was an important, marketable skill. In case you haven’t noticed: NO ONE BUILDS WEBSITES IN FLASH ANYMORE. Technologies will change. Industries will change. Job titles will change. Investing in your passions will turn dividends. Make note of the things that really excite you. Read the books that scream to you from the shelf. Feed your curiosity. Know about things that are beyond your major. You’ll carry those things with you, through your whole life, and they’ll make you a more interesting, well-rounded human. Your major will eventually be irrelevant. Your career will shift. Your passions will help carry you.


    You don’t have to slay the world in the year after graduating. You don’t have a land your dream job right away to be headed in the right direction. Keep learning and growing. Be patient. Each job, freelance gig, industry contact, and self-driven project are working together to make you the person who will eventually get that dream job, no matter what it is. You’re a person, not a career robot, and people grow slowly.

  10. The “dream job” you have in mind on graduation day may not actually end up being your dream job in the end.

    If you are wise, you will keep learning. Every day will be an opportunity to grow, and as you grow, your dreams will change. That’s not a sign that your earlier dreams were wrong, it’s a sign that you’re not stuck, still and stagnant. You will eventually look back at yourself on graduation day, and you will hardly recognize that person. What a beautiful thing that is! The Sara that crossed a stage wearing a weird dress and goofy hat isn’t the same person who sits here typing today. (The cat that sits next to me today is about 15 pounds larger than she was 10 years ago, but that’s a whole other conversation.) In May of 2009, I thought I knew exactly how my life would go, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had no idea what was headed my way. And yet, today, I couldn’t be more grateful for the weird, winding road that I’ve travelled. In another 10 years, I’m sure I’ll feel the same way about the Sara that I was today. (Heaven knows how large the cat may be by then!) We’re all a work in progress.

Sara McNally1 Comment