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Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Change of city, job and perspective

By Sarah Spain

Tom Brady, Serena Williams, and LeBron James
Tom Brady, Serena Williams, and LeBron James, like Sarah Spain, have grown and changed in 10 years.

This weekend I'm heading to Ithaca, N.Y., for my 10-year reunion at Cornell University.

It's hard to believe it's been a whole decade since college, particularly considering I was using my expired Cornell ID to get a student discount at the movies until about a year ago. It feels like just yesterday I was doing hurdle drills in track practice, breaking down Beowulf and swooning over the boys in Sigma Chi.

Then again, a lot has changed since 2002.

Ten years ago Serena Williams was in the winners' circle at the French Open and Tiger Woods had just won his second straight Masters and was en route to his fourth of five straight PGA Tour Player of the Year awards. The Charlotte Hornets were about to move to New Orleans and the Houston Texans were set to kick off their first season as the NFL's newest franchise.

The Patriots had just won the Super Bowl behind backup-quarterback-turned-starter Tom Brady, the Lakers were about to grab their third straight NBA championship and a 17-year-old LeBron James was on the cover of SI along with the caption "The Chosen One."

"The West Wing" and "Friends" were tops on TV, "A Beautiful Mind" took Best Picture honors at the Oscars and Alicia Keys took home all the hardware at the Grammys. The Enron scandal dominated headlines, Winona Ryder was caught stealing at Saks and the paparazzi snapped Michael Jackson dangling son Prince off a hotel balcony.

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal
Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal won three title together with the Los Angeles Lakers, the last in 2002.

Some things were the same; Coldplay was on tour, Jennifer Lopez was going through a divorce and everyone was excited about a new Spider-Man movie. Some things have changed; Christina Aguilera has ditched the bikini and leather chaps combo and Nickelback is no longer No. 1 on the Billboard charts. (Thank God for small favors.)

Having just graduated from Cornell, I was working at a sports marketing and production company in Chicago, saving up for a big move to Los Angeles. I had dreams of a career in acting and comedy and imagined hosting "Talk Soup" on E!

Flash forward five years to 2007. I was living in Los Angeles, about to head to my five-year Cornell reunion.

My Chicago Bears had just been defeated by Peyton Manning and the Colts on a rainy, gray day in Miami. The Ducks had topped the Senators in the Stanley Cup Finals and the Spurs were about to finish off a sweep of LeBron James and the Cavs en route to their third NBA title in five years. Serena Williams took top honors at the Australian Open and Tiger Woods nabbed his third of three straight Player of the Year awards.

Paris Hilton landed in jail, Don Imus landed in hot water and Sopranos fans everywhere cursed at their TVs as "Don't Stop Believing" played out a fade to black. The Dixie Chicks dominated at the Grammys, Beyonce topped the Billboard charts and "The Departed" led the way with four big wins at the Oscars.

Some things were the same; The Daily Show was earning critical acclaim, people were addicted to Pinkberry and everyone was excited about a new Spider-Man movie. Some things have changed; Linday Lohan's legal troubles aren't the least bit shocking now and Nickelback is no longer No. 1 on the Billboard charts. (Again, thank you Jesus.)

I was working as a production assistant at Fox Sports in Los Angeles, wondering when -- or, more accurately, if -- I was gonna get my "big break." While I was enjoying the freedom of being low on the totem pole at work, I was also stressing about the measly paycheck my low-level status afforded me.

The bigwigs at E! had canceled "Talk Soup" (had they discovered me back then, it might not have taken seven years for a reboot) and my career path had swerved from aspiring, unsuccessful comedic actress to aspiring, unsuccessful sports reporter. I was firmly entrenched in the kind of "quarter-life crisis" John Mayer used to sing about before he started singing about sleeping with famous actresses.

In the days leading up to my reunion I questioned my job, my income, my weight, my singleton status and my haircut. I was certain that all my old classmates would be uber-rich, wildly successful and married to the men of their dreams.

Five years later, and a lot has changed.

Serena Williams just got bounced in the opening round of the French Open and she hasn't won a big tournament since 2010. Tiger Woods hasn't been named PGA Tour Player of the Year since 2009 and his hasn't won a major since 2008.

Tom Brady has three championship rings while "The Chosen One" is in his eighth season in the NBA and still hasn't won one. Peyton Manning traded in his horseshoe for the whole horse and the Ducks haven't sniffed the Stanley Cup Finals in years.

The Real Housewives of New Jersey are the new Sopranos, Lady Gaga is wearing Christina's old chaps and I think the Emmys now have just one category for non-reality programming.

I'm back in Chicago and I've got great jobs at espnW and ESPN Radio. I've got a serious boyfriend, a mortgage and a dog and I actually shop at Whole Foods instead of going there for "meals" during prime sampling hours.

When I arrive in Ithaca on Thursday I won't be worried about who's married (or divorced), whether my paycheck stacks up to those of my classmates or whether my body now screams "writer!" instead of "athlete!"

I always thought thirty-somethings were lying when they said youth was overrated. Now I know that the peace of mind that comes with age is well worth the wrinkles, bills and responsibilities that accompany it. The only thing from my past I'll wish for this weekend is my college liver. Lord knows I'm going to be hurting Monday morning.