Resounding sentiments of "I didn't inhale," Scene reveals the true college antics of this election's prominent presidential candidates
By LAURA KELLY
Assistant Scene Editor
Education has become a strong issue in this year's presidential campaign, with each candidate arguing he has the better plan to reform America's schools. Republican candidate George W. Bush points to his success at improving education in Texas, while Democrat Al Gore supports regular testing to hold schools accountable.
Ironically, though, neither of these two major candidates boasts an outstanding academic record themselves.
In fact, their grades reveal that neither seemed to value the Ivy League education they were fortunate enough to receive.
From drinking at frat parties to smoking marijuana, both Al and George partied their way through institutions of higher learning, leaving the American public to wonder if either candidate truly realizes the importance of education, or if their end of the election is merely a battle between two rich prep school boys with silver spoons in their mouths.
George W. Bush
After spending his childhood in the small town of Midland, Texas, George W. Bush followed his father out east to the elite prep school Andover in 1960, and then to Yale University in 1964. There in the town of New Haven, George W. thrived as an outgoing, popular student who knew how to enjoy his college years — even if he wasn't enamored with the intellectual side of college.
Bush was the quintessential frat boy, a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon. His fraternity was known as a house of preps and jocks and claimed a rowdy party reputation.
Bush was well-liked by his peers, and was elected president of DKE — a position which strengthened the personal and business skills that would bring him later political successes.
Friendships at DKE and beyond were Bush's priority, and he was known to share more than a few laughs over beers with his frat brothers. George W. was also involved with intramural sports at Davenport, his residential college at Yale.
During a time when many students risked arrests for protests and sit-ins, the Texan prankster broke the law for a dare.
During the winter of his junior year, Bush was out strolling the streets of New Haven and drinking with his frat brothers. Upon a dare, Bush stole a Christmas wreath from the door of a hotel. As the boys ran from the scene of the crime, loud and boisterous as any slightly intoxicated youth would be, they were arrested by police and charged with disorderly conduct, charges that were later dropped.
Bush's crime record did not stop here, however. A year after the wreath arrest, Bush was at Princeton for a football game. When Yale was victorious, Bush and his friends charged the field and tried to knock down the goal posts. Police caught the boy trying to tear apart the goal posts to take a chunk home as a souvenir.
After interrogating him, police finally released Bush on the condition that he leave Princeton by dusk.
Bush's fun-loving days at Yale were not hampered by diligent study habits or philosophical contemplation. Critics of the Texan governor sneer at how Bush seemingly partied his way through Yale, never receiving an A. With SAT Verbal scores of 566 and Andover grades that were less than impressive, it seems that the Bush family's political and social ties were what got him into the Ivy League. While Bush was a student, the administration raised admittance standards that would have probably barred him from acceptance if he had applied a few years later.
His lack of dedication to his studies continued throughout his college years. When Bush's Yale transcript was leaked to The New Yorker, the public learned that George W. earned a consistent "Gentleman's C."
Bush was a history major, but did poorly in political science and economics. Oddly enough for a candidate running to lead the country, Bush earned a mere 73 percent in Introduction to the American Political System, and a 71 percent in Introduction to International Relations.
His best college grades were a B+ in both philosophy and anthropology, taught that year by Margaret Mead who was popular for her easy grading.
Although Bush's grades did not show it, he did boast a practical intelligence, as seen in his leadership skills as fraternity president and in a story from his early days in DKE.
During his induction to the fraternity, all the sophomore pledges were gathered in the frat basement, cowering while upperclassmen hit them, shouted insults and berated the boys for thinking they were worthy to belong to such a great frat.
One technique to humiliate the sophomores in front of their peers was to ask the boys to name all their fellow pledges. Most could only shamefully name five or six of the 55-member pledge class, but when it came time for Bush's turn, he confidently stood and named every single pledge.
Despite the fraternity fun that Bush enjoyed, the Yale of the 1960s was becoming more serious and intellectual. Bush insists that college was a great time in his life, but somewhere along the way he grew to detest the elitist Yale attitude.
According to the New York Times, Bush later complained about the "self-righteousness" and "intellectual superiority" of East Coast liberal establishment that took over places like Yale in the 1960s. Frats were looked down upon as frivolous and immature during the tumultuous 1960s, as students protested passionately for radical causes.
None of this protesting was Bush's scene, however. He unabashedly enjoyed his youth and his fraternity escapades.
The fraternity was not the only social group to which Bush belonged. Again emulating his father, Bush was accepted into the elitist society of the Skull and Bones. This secretive group was comprised of 15 of the most promising or socially prominent men in each class. Connections formed through the group's powerful alumni set its members on a lifelong course for success and power.
It seems odd that Bush would associate himself with such an exclusive group, as he was strongly opposed to the snobby, elitist attitude he saw at Yale. Yet during such a turbulent decade, the conservative Bush clung to the ideals and values of his parents' generation.
The upheaval of the 60s — the riots, the anti-war protests, the burning of draft cards — made George uneasy. Instead of questioning his values, he clung to them even tighter. The counterculture rejected everything for which his family stood.
The conventional George W. never rebelled like so many others of his generation — no long hair, no drug abuse, no loud music. Bush broke away from his parents in traditional ways: having a string of girlfriends while his parents had only ever dated each other and partying throughout his college years.
As summed up in the New York Times, "while some students took to the barricade, Mr. Bush took to the bar."
Al Gore was described in his prep school yearbook as "popular, respected, the epitome of the All-American young man … it probably won't be long before Al reaches the top."
St. Albans in Washington, D.C., was where Gore spent his high school years. Al was seen by his peers as serious and upright, always doing the right thing. As the school's football captain, he even turned in his own teammates for drinking and smoking.
Gore often describes these years of his life as unhappy, as he felt pressured to be an example to peers and to live up to his father. Like Bush, Gore was the namesake of a powerful political patriarch. Albert Gore, Sr. served three terms in the Senate and always pushed his son to achieve.
Any unhappy memories of the pressures of St. Albans were overshadowed by the way Gore's life changed at his graduation dance. It was at this senior prom when he met Mary Elizabeth Aitcheson, better known as "Tipper." Gore said he knew almost right away, even at the age of 17, that he would spend the rest of his life with this woman.
Tipper had grown up in Washington's Virginia suburbs and was a year younger than Gore. Gore's relationship with Tipper often brought him into conflict with his strict parents. His mother Pauline thought Al could do better, as Tipper's family wasn't socially prominent. Nevertheless, when Al went off to Harvard in 1965, Tipper joined him in Boston for his sophomore year, studying at Garland Junior College and then at Boston University.
Gore was so confident in his decision to go to Harvard that it was the only school to which he applied. His grades, like Bush's, were not stellar, although his SAT verbal scores were higher: 625. As in George W's case, Gore's father and his political connections ensured his son a place in the class of 1969.
Al jumped right into college life, campaigning for freshman council by his second day. Gore was just the kind of serious student that Bush used to mock. He worried about the problems of his generation, especially the debate over Vietnam and the threat of nuclear destruction.
Gore started off as an English major, until, he says, Chaucer nearly killed him. He enjoyed writing poetry and worked for years on a novel that he never finished. He loved to read and to study astronomy, an admitted Star Trek fan.
Despite his serious demeanor, Gore had a wild side as well. As a teenager, he totaled his father's Chevy Impala while passing a truck on country roads.
He later turned to racing around the streets of Cambridge on a motorcycle.
Gore now admits to beer chugging contests and smoking pot while at Harvard. He spent much of his early college years shooting pool, watching television and partying on weekends.
Gore's roommate and later housemate was the actor Tommy Lee Jones. Jones, Gore and their other friends from Mower B — his dorm in the North Yar — enjoyed spending lazy afternoons playing poker and listening to records of Bob Dylan, Motown, Beatles and Buffalo Springfield.
At the end of their freshman year, Gore's group of friends organized a musical revue, with Gore — now ridiculed for his stiffness — as the stand-up comic.
Gore was an enthusiastic athlete, playing house football and handball because his group considered squash "too Harvard." He played for Harvard's basketball team during his freshman year, but mostly warmed the bench, averaging less than 3 points a game. Gore was always challenging friends to all kinds of competitions — push-up challenges, swimming races in the Charles River and beer chugging contests.
Gore's favorite class at Harvard was, ironically enough, presidential decision-making. When the class re-enacted decisions made during the Cuban missile crisis, Gore took the role of President Kennedy. He got his first A's that year, after semesters of C's and even a D in biology as a sophomore. One friend of Al's joked that having failed evolution, he was all set for a career in Tennessee politics. It was because of this presidential politics class that Gore changed his major to government, and the rest, they say, is history.
College students surely identify with the fun-loving college years Bush and Gore enjoyed. Indeed it would be impossible and hypocritical for most people to criticize such behavior. Yet the underlying issue is not Bush's fraternity pranks or Gore's marijuana use. The problem is motivating voters to choose between two similar candidates.
Both men struggled with the expectations and pressures of powerful fathers. Both followed the traditional East Coast path from elitist prep schools to the Ivy League. And both reacted conservatively to the upheaval of the 1960s.
Because of these similarities, many Americans feel they must choose between the lesser of two evils, and polls indicate indecision is so common that no one knows who the winner will be. But come Nov. 7, the next president of the United States will either be a Yalie from western Texas or a Harvard man from Tennessee — a victory their college buddies surely never imagined they'd see.
All Scene Stories for Friday, November 3, 2000