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The Final Word: John Scalzi ’87 on His 30th Reunion

John Scalzi ’87
I’m going to come out and admit that I wasn’t really expecting that much out of my 30th reunion.

Part of that is because of something I’ve said jokingly for a while, but which I always sort of believed, which is that the 20th high school reunion was the one that actually mattered. My thinking here (such as it was), was the reunions before the 20th were too soon for any major life changes—at your 5th reunion, you’re barely out of college (and may still be in it if you took a relaxed attitude toward classes), and at the 10th, you might still be in grad school or on the lower rungs of your profession.

At the 20th, however, you are well into the swing of your professional life, you are possibly married and have kids, and you are finally old enough to have some perspective on life. You have, in effect, become an adult and the person who you were destined to be. And that’s what makes 20th reunions interesting: You get to find out who all your classmates have actually become, away from the expectations of who you thought they would be, literally half a lifetime before.

And after that? Well, every reunion after that is just kind of anticlimactic, more of the same, on and on for as long as you can. Oh, look, there’s Bob and Joan, they’re the same, just older again (and don’t worry, Bob and Joan are thinking the same about you).

That was my thinking anyway, at least through my 20th reunion, and possibly one reason why I didn’t worry about not making my 25th.

So how was it that, in fact, my 30th class reunion was by far and away the best, and most emotionally satisfying, of all the reunions that I’ve been to so far?

Well, and to begin, clearly my “the 20th reunion is the only important one” is silly nonsense. Which is fine! As I get older I’ve realized just how much silly nonsense I’ve believed over the years, especially if it made for a pithy quote or monologue. I spend a lot of time confronting my own shallowness these days. Yay, maturity.

But, aside from pithiness, why was I wrong? I think it’s because in my arrogance in singling out the 20th as the
reunion where “we become who we are,” I papered over an important fact, which is that at no point in our lives do we ever stop becoming who we are. We don’t in fact hit 38 years old and then have our personalities and perspectives sealed up in a vacuum tube, to remain the same as we get older. We keep growing and changing and having life experiences, some good and some less so. We’re never static. We’re always becoming.

And yes, this all seems obvious now. But it’s still okay to say it out loud: Turns out every reunion, from the 5th to the 50th (and beyond if you’re lucky), is another opportunity to meet the people you thought you knew, and to learn about who they are today.

And this brings us to another reason why I found this 30th reunion so satisfying: Turns out, I really like the people who my classmates have become.

I mean, I liked most of them when we were at Webb anyway. Our school has small graduating classes and when you live with the same few dozen people for four years, you (or at least I) found things to like about most of them. At the same time, high school in general and I would argue Webb in particular is a hothouse environment, and the teen years are, well. Fraught is probably the euphemism I’d use. I was as fraught as anyone else.

One of the great advantages of time is that it takes you away from the emotional and hormonal upheaval of your teen years and gives you the life experience that allows you perspective and, I think, a generosity of spirit, not just with others but with yourself. We learn to be kind, and to be warm and to appreciate the people who are in front of us for who they are today—and not just to appreciate them but to celebrate them, not just for their accomplishments but for who they are.

And it turns out that who my classmates are, are people who I’m glad I get to know. I would want to know even them without the benefit of having lived with them all, 30 years ago. I feel fortunate in saying that our friendships have not just weathered the years, but have improved because of them. I hope they feel the same about me.

It’s why the 30th was better than the 20th, and why I’m looking forward to the 35th, which happens the same year as our school’s centennial. I’ll be there. I’m looking forward to seeing my classmates again, remembering who they were before, and meeting for the first time who they are now.

John Scalzi ’87 is a three-time Hugo winner and former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. In 2013, he was awarded the Hugo Award for Best Novel for Redshirts.
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