I’m not usually one to miss important milestones. But it seems that I graduated from college one year ago last May, and the entire month swept by without my recognizing the anniversary.

In the grand scheme of things, how meaningful is this milestone, really? It’s not a day that we’re socially conditioned to remember, like we recognize a close friend’s birthday with a restaurant dinner, or our wedding anniversaries with gifts that riff on paper, silver, or lace. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since my college graduation ceremony, it’s that life no longer hands you obvious deadlines, and the rest of your life’s “universal” rites of passage can be counted on two measly fingers (marriage, and babies—if you even choose to dabble in either). For twenty-two years, my classmates and I were shuttled in lockstep through various life stages with astounding predictability, mostly thanks to our highly-structured educational system. And then? We reached the last page of our guidebook the day we donned one-size-fits-all gowns and threw our tasseled caps in the air. In the wide-open plains of post-graduate life, we’ve had to find our own meaning and order. You know, construct our own roads and fences, if you’ll beat that metaphor to death with me.

So I chose to celebrate this belated anniversary, arbitrary though it may be, and I celebrated with cake. That’s how all milestones should be marked, right? It was banana chocolate walnut cake, extraordinarily light but equally flavorful, and yet simple enough for the made-up occasion. There was ice cream too, of course.

With regard to all that “construct your own roads!” jazz, I found myself discouraged at times in the past year that my road—some sort of career path—hasn’t yet materialized. Not even a sign pointing me toward a road, or some asphalt and a shovel. But independently of textbook achievements like finding a “dream job,” I think the Class of 2009 can be extremely proud of simply having made it outside that structured higher-education bubble. Last May, I could spit out intelligent-sounding analytical essays with the best of them, but was an embarrassing novice at, well, life.

Now I know how to rent a U-Haul trailer, hitch it to my car, and haul furniture cross-country. I’ve painted my own walls, perched on a ladder and armed with massive amounts of blue tape. I take care of a dependent being (low-maintenance as Koko may be), manage my insurance policies, and file my own taxes. I’ve successfully navigated quarterly performance reviews! Best of all, I’ve learned to stick with a long-term project and find fulfillment in my personal writing: the six-month anniversary of my blog’s birth just passed me by as well, so quickly that it took me by surprise.

I’d no longer describe myself as a “recent college graduate.” That title now belongs to members of the Class of 2010, and I wish them the best of luck with it. Now I’m just an adult, not defined by what I left behind a year ago. All I have is wide open space in front of me, and the confidence to navigate it.

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