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Back to School

Seven past and present Chicagoans revisit their wonder years


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Long before he was a crusading sex-advice columnist who launched an international campaign to ease the pain of LGBT bully victims, Dan Savage was the victim of similar attacks. Chicago Teachers Union prez Karen Lewis once railed against her own educators' rules—offering her an early taste of the thrill of battling the status quo. Top Chef Stephanie Izard used to be a national competitive swimmer—until a tenth of a second forever altered her course.

All of which goes to show that high school isn't a complete waste.

Most of us remember all too well the agony and ecstasy of our freshman through senior years. (If you're like me, you return there more often than you'd care to, in the form of recurring dreams in which you're forever ill-equipped for a chemistry test.) Not all of us bore the brunt of a Jesuit priest's wrath in exchange for a taste of Al's Italian Beef (see Bill Savage), nor were we unwitting accomplices to the theft of an LSD icon's car (yes, we're talking about Tim Kinsella). But we all can revel in escapades like those. We might not know what it's like to embark on the physical and spiritual journey from Englewood to Lane Tech (as Tonika Johnson did), or to graduate from being a diminutive, picked-on pud to a Golden Gloves champ (see Bill Hillmann). But we can appreciate the meaning of outsider, survivor, fighter—especially when it comes to those four formative years.

Even if you have zero desire to go back, you have to admit: high school had its moments.

Dan Savage, class of '80

Sex-advice columnist, cofounder of the It Gets Better Project, editorial director of the Stranger, brother of Bill

Bill Savage, class of '80

Northwestern University senior lecturer in English, bartender, brother of Dan

Karen Lewis, class of '70

President, Chicago Teachers Union

Stephanie Izard, class of '94

Executive chef, Girl & the Goat

Tim Kinsella, class of '93

Musician who’s played with Cap’n Jazz, Owls, Joan of Arc, and Make Believe; author of the forthcoming novel The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self-Defense

Tonika G. Johnson, class of '97

Photographer and cofounder/lead teacher of Media-N-Motion, a south-side after-school writing program that explores media stereotypes and overcoming bias

Bill Hillman, class of '99

Host of the Windy City Story Slam

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