A highpoint of my college experience actually occurred a couple of months before freshman year. One Saturday in early summer of 1978, I received a letter from Dean Wall (who else?) asking whether I was willing to be a roommate, as part of a triple, to a blind student named Peter Scialli. I had never been so flattered as I was by this request. I reported the invitation ecstatically to my parents. Then I promptly sobered up and observed that, who knew, this could be a difficult kid.
The first day of orientation came. We all three gathered in our first floor room in Pratt: Peter, Karl Golnik and I. Karl’s genial nature served to break the ice. He started with the critical question that had been puzzling us both: “So Peter, how do you pronounce your last name?” At some point that afternoon, we also got around to inquiring whether he’d always had his mustache. At the end of freshman year, Peter and Karl both rushed AD. Peter and I made a pact to continue our trips into town every Saturday morning—no longer to schlep in our laundry, now just to stay in touch. We held to this arrangement, with rare interruptions, throughout our remaining years at Amherst.
Peter continued to face trials foreign to most of us. The country was not ready for a blind doctor, he was told more than once, even one who had accomplished a degree in neuroscience from Amherst. So instead, Peter returned to his home in New Jersey, where he completed a doctorate in clinical psychology at Farleigh Dickinson Univ. Adamantine determination and constant humor sustained him, and reassured his friends, through difficulties he rarely revealed in detail.
In the following years, our contact consisted mostly of e-mail and phone conversations. We did not get together often, although I visited Peter at his old Passaic home not long after we graduated. We met up again when Peter married Robin Brodie in a graceful, musical wedding ceremony. After I moved to D.C., Peter and Robin, and their children Katie and Christopher, were among the first people who invited me by.
At the 25th Reunion last year, I ran into Prof. Norton Starr during an outdoor class lunch. I commented that he had no reason to remember me but that he might recall my two freshman year roommates, Peter Scialli and Karl Golnik, who together had taken a class with him their first semester. Prof. Starr—who remembered us all clearly (this may well be a trait of Amherst professors)—immediately recalled Peter’s astounding ability to do extremely complex calculations in his head. As an undergraduate, I’d heard of this same feat from admiring, if confounded, classmates. How magnificent to learn, 25 years later, that Peter’s extraordinary intellect remained an Amherst legacy!
Another aspect of Peter’s character that was no less exceptional typically went unremarked; indeed, the absence of comment was its evidence. Peter was unassuming. He had ambitions—thankfully—but he lacked airs and presumptions. He was decent and funny and thoughtful. Students who expressed awe at Peter’s strength of mind often seemed surprised that he lacked a concomitant arrogance.
Such is the story of a lifelong friendship. It ended with Peter’s premature death from bladder cancer June 15, 2008, at age 48. We shared adventures and misadventures, from orientation (finding a convenient laundromat in town, discovering that Valentine did not open as early on the weekends as we’d expected) to a trip to Las Vegas nearly 30 years later (discovering that the hotel served meals 24 hours every day). I will miss my valued friend for the rest of my life.
—Ben Apt ’82