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We are, still, SI

By Anthony del Zompo ’84

I betrayed a family value when I chose to attend St. Ignatius as a freshman in 1980. My father went to Sacred Heart, and my two older brothers graduated from Riordan. On the surface, SI was the logical choice. My brothers were super achievers, and I didn’t want to be Lou and Frank’s “little brother” for another four years. Sacred Heart didn’t have the reputation that it has today, and most of my closest friends were attending SI. But because of the constant insults from my father and brothers, I often felt like a blue-collar kid trying to fit in at a white-collar school.

That feeling remained with me as I attended my first reunion in 1994. I hadn’t “made it,” whatever that means, and I was still comparing myself to my classmates who had established careers and families. It would take an additional 15 years for me to realize that life isn’t a race and to discover that if I continued to measure my success in relation to others, I would always fall short.

I did look forward to our 25-year gathering in spite of myself. I spent most of the evening getting reacquainted with Peter Bjorkland and Robert O’Brien. Although I had known both men during our four years at SI, I had not been close with either of them. Still, I was struck by the depth with which we, as men approaching mid-life, could converse with neither pretense nor a need to be anyone but ourselves. Sadly, Robert passed before we would gather again as a class, but I’m grateful, still, for the chance I had to share that evening with him.

A number of years ago, a few men from our class gathered for a luncheon around the holidays. They had a great time, and a tradition began. Jesse Montalvo created a Facebook page for the class of 1984, and the word began to spread.

 When I attended my first luncheon in 2012, I was still grieving the loss of my father. He was a first generation San Franciscan and a member of the SFPD for 32 years. When we sold his home, the same building my grandparents had lived in, I was devastated. The house on 1585 Chestnut Street wasn’t just a building in the Marina. It was where I had spent countless childhood days in prayer with my grandmother, where I would visit my grandfather and walk with him to the park to watch him and his friends play bocce ball. It was where my father had spent the rest of his life after he and my mother divorced. The sale of the home seemed as if a vital connection to my childhood had been severed.

I sat with Matt McGuinness that day. Matt and I had been friends since grammar school, and he was also grieving the loss of his father, Mark, who had graduated with the class of 1955. Matt and I had gotten into plenty of trouble together as kids, and suddenly we were the grownups responsible for our children and our work. Matt was running IDS, a flooring company he had started with his father, and he had sent all three of his children to SI. In spite of the years that had passed, our friendship didn’t miss a beat. We could pick up right where we had left off, but the connection was deeper and more intimate.

After lunch, I was filled with a renewed sense of optimism. Yes, my father and his home were gone. But I realized that my connection to SI would sustain me, and that I could count on the men I had known since childhood to keep me grounded in the years ahead.

On Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, the class of 1984 gathered for our 30-year reunion at Harris’ Restaurant on Van Ness Avenue. The party sold out, and the restaurant staff had to set up additional tables in the hallway for last-minute attendees. I learned from Tim Reardon ’86 that it was the largest turnout for a class reunion in years.

That evening, I spoke with Nils Kristoffersen, who operates the Wild Basin Lodge in Allenspark, Colorado. We hadn’t been close during our time at SI, but the time we spent together at the reunion was memorable as he shared his recollection of me from our time together at SI.

“Delz, you were the nicest guy in high school.”

I was shocked. “That’s funny,” I replied. “I always thought I was kind of a loud-mouthed jerk with a chip on my shoulder.”

His brows creased. “Not at all. You were never a bully, and you were always really kind to the smaller kids. If you ever want to come out Colorado, I’d love to have you as my guest.”

I was honored. And confused. For three decades, I held on to an idea of who I was in high school — a kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Thirty years later, I learned that my memory of myself was suspect, and that other people can have a less biased and sometimes refreshing perspective.

Our latest gathering was on Friday, Dec. 11. Again, the turnout was impressive. There were upwards of 50 of us gathered that day, including five of us from my grammar school. Matt McGuinness, Marc Dioso, Kevin O’Sullivan, Mark Orsi, and I represented St. Cecilia’s class of 1980. It was absolutely surreal to share an afternoon with these men, men that I spent 12 years of my life with, from childhood through adolescence.

After lunch, Joe Vollert stood and spoke. “This is a big year for the class of ’84,” he said. “Most of us have either turned or will turn 50. And it seems that we probably have more yesterdays than tomorrows.”

We remembered the graduates of the class of ’84 who are no longer with us, and Joe went on to challenge us to take a look at the legacy we are leaving not only for St. Ignatius, but also for the city of San Francisco. He noted that as Jesuit-educated men, we are called to action and service, and he proposed a grass-roots committee whose purpose would be to leave an impact upon the city in which SI exists.

I left feeling an odd combination of hope and melancholy. My classmates and I are older, no doubt. But, for those of us who remain, there is an opportunity to make a difference.

As I returned home to Santa Cruz, I passed the gaping hole east of Brisbane where Candlestick Park once stood and laughed out loud in my car. If you had told me during my freshman year in 1981 that the 49ers, who had just won their first Super Bowl, would one day move to Santa Clara, or that the Giants would play in China Basin, I would have suggested medication. Change is inevitable. But growth within that change, however, is optional.

I’m in awe of my classmates, and the growth they and I have experienced in the years since our time at SI. I embrace the opportunity to tend to my remaining roots, to till the soil, and nurture the growth that my connection to St. Ignatius affords me. As I approach the big five-0, the words “We are SI” mean more to me now than ever.

 

Posted by Mr. Paul J. Totah on Thursday January 7, 2016
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