I’m feeling reflective tonight. It could be because it’s May, and that means summer’s just around the corner — graduations, and memories of school. Let’s start there.

Five years ago, in May 2008, I was preparing to graduate from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y., with an undergraduate degree in communication/journalism and a concentration in print journalism.

Here I am at St. John Fisher in May 2008:

five things learned

I was frightened about what the future held for me. So many unknowns. Where would I end up? Would I find a job? A job I liked? Where would that be? What was life like after school?

I knew I was moving to Chicago to start a graduate program in journalism at DePaul University, this time focused on online journalism. That had its own unknowns. I didn’t know anyone in Chicago. Would I make friends? Was I even making the right choice? I knew graduate school would give me some time to figure things out, but it would also mean accumulating debt.

Hindsight is 20/20 and I can now say: everything worked out just fine!

Little did I know five years ago that I would be going to New York City after Chicago and that I would somehow land a full-time job with The Huffington Post, where I am today.

As I look back at those five years, here are some things I’ve learned.

(1) No one’s going to hand you anything. You can’t wait for opportunities to come to you; you have to be proactive. You have to work really hard. At times, that means long hours and doing more work than you might want to do. You have to go above and beyond to get noticed. You have to experiment and do things other people aren’t doing. You have to do things, occasionally, that aren’t fun at all.

(2) You never know where you’ll end up. New York City is one of the last places I could imagine living when I was growing up in Buffalo. For one, it seemed unattainable. Close but so far. I didn’t know anyone there. I didn’t have any connections there. I can still remember the seven words that started this journey: “What do you think of New York?” I was speaking with someone from HuffPost about my blog and little did I know it would lead to a job opportunity. I’m grateful to be here; it’s been good. Anything is possible.

(3) Don’t worry about the little things. It’s so easy to get stressed out, but here’s the thing: no matter what you’re going through, someone is going through something multiple times worse. There’s really no use in being selfish and you have to think about the big picture. There are going to be speedbumps in life, things that aren’t very fun, sometimes things that aren’t even fair. You have to breathe in, breathe out, and just go with the flow. Whatever it is, it really will pass. Time continues with or without you.

(4) Don’t give up on yourself. Friends will come and go. Other people will give up on you. Sometimes people will turn on you. You can’t stop believing in yourself. I used to have major problems with confidence but you have to believe in yourself because that’s when you’ll be at your best. Along these lines, identify and use your God-given talents (everyone has them) to make a difference in the world. Help others. If you do good, it really does boomerang back to you; maybe not right away, but it will. Be confident. Be you.

(5) Family’s more important than anything. This one’s ironic because for most of the time these past five years I’ve been hundreds of miles away from my immediate family, but distance really does make the heart grow fonder and make you realize what’s important. It’s great to be independent, learn about yourself and grow, but your family will be part of who you are for the duration of your life, so why not have a good relationship with them? I still speak with my parents multiple times a week. Family has been the one constant amid many changes and a whirlwind world.

BONUS: You never stop learning. Ever. I’m learning new things every day.

Graduation day with my family, May 2008:
five things learned