Go East, Young Man

Child of privilege? Sure, but he left Andover and Yale as a regular guy.

WHEN TENTH GRADER GEORGE W. BUSH ARRIVED at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, in the fall of 1961, he discovered that winter was cold, the trees looked funny, the days were short, and there were no girls at all. There were, however, top students from all over the country. “We were in way over our heads in a foreign land,” recalls Clay Johnson, a friend from Fort Worth who is now the governor’s appointments secretary. “We found we had to struggle just to catch up with everybody else.” Students were allowed seven minutes between classes, and every aspect of the day was coordinated with military precision. “We worked hard,” says Johnson. “There was an article about private schools in Time magazine our first or second year. The headmaster of Andover was on the cover, and the point was that Andover was the hardest school in the country. I remember reading that and thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m at the hardest school in the country!’ I mean, I thought it was hard, but I didn’t realize it was that hard.’” For his first English assignment, Bush was told to recount an emotional experience. Writing about something that made him cry, he looked up the word “tears” in a thesaurus, hoping to find an impressive synonym. He wrote, “Lacerates ran down my cheeks.” The professor gave him a zero, calling his paper “disgraceful.”

Within a matter of months, however, the gregarious teenager knew most of his classmates. To them, Bush was a blur of activity—always playing table tennis or pool or Frisbee or catch or touch football, always involved in physical activity, always involved in competition. The kid was enthusiasm incarnate. He played varsity baseball and basketball and junior varsity football. On the basketball team he was not among the star players, which became fodder for the self-deprecating jokes that endeared him to others. “The basketball team was hard to get onto,” says John Kidde, one of his closest friends. “They picked only twelve guys. But he made fun of himself for sitting on the bench.” After he decided not to try out for varsity football, he became the head cheerleader instead. He also organized a stickball league. “He made a big deal about it,” Kidde says. “He would give long talks, citing all these rules about what spectators could do and what players could wear.” Apparently Bush found the school’s atmosphere a bit heavy. “I was able to instill a sense of frivolity,” he said. “Andover was kind of a strange experience.” Grateful for his organizational skills, classmates nicknamed him Tweeds Bush, after the classic backroom pol Boss Tweed.

In their senior year Kidde and Bush were appointed proctors of a tenth-grade dorm, a responsibility that was considered a high honor, and consequently they roomed together. Midway through the year, Bush returned from a trip home to Texas with Barry Goldwater’s book, The Conscience of a Conservative. Kidde did a double take when he saw it lying on Bush’s desk. “I said, ‘What the hell is this?’” Kidde remembers. “We didn’t have any time to read anything extracurricular. If we did, you would read a novel. But George seemed honestly interested in the book. He said his parents had asked him to read it. I remember him telling me what Goldwater stood for.”

Around the same time, Bush told the dean of Andover that he intended to apply to Yale University. The dean encouraged him to look into other options. Bush maintains he got in on his own merit; others have assumed that family connections helped—his father and grandfather attended Yale before him. In any case he had the comfort of familiar faces when he arrived. He roomed with two Andover pals, Rob Dieter and Clay Johnson, for all four years. At the time, Yale was on the brink of profound changes. Women didn’t arrive on campus until the year after Bush graduated, but public-school students were turning up in droves. Most felt shunned by classmates who’d gone to elite prep schools. In the eyes of the public-schoolers George W. represented the very definition of an East Coast preppy. “He was a private-school kid, and I was a public-school kid, so we didn’t run in the same circles,” says David Cluchey, who teaches law at the University of Maine. In time, however, Bush’s nature led him to get past those barriers to a greater degree than others with his background.

All Yale freshmen were lumped together in a gray quadrangle known as Old Campus. Bush’s class included Oliver Stone, Ron Rosenbaum, and Strobe Talbott, who would go on to find fame as a filmmaker, a writer, and a diplomat, respectively. It also included Don Schollander, who was already a star swimmer: He won four gold medals in the 1964 Summer Olympics. While others were lost in the fog of adjusting to college, Bush seemed perfectly at ease. “Everybody else was like, ‘Where am I? What’s going on?’” says Roland W. Betts, a close friend. “George was the person who in three months knew the name of everybody and actually knew fifty percent of the class.” He was also a notoriously bad dresser who never did his laundry. “He would grab a T-shirt off the floor and put it on,” Johnson says. “He’d wrap a tie around his neck, and technically he would wear a coat, but there might not be any arms on the shirt under it.”

Bush’s father ran for office for the first time that fall. George W. flew to Houston to be there when the results came in on election night—and got his first taste of political heartbreak. Incumbent Ralph Yarborough won the hotly contested U.S. Senate race with 56 percent of the vote. George W. had cherished the notion that his father would become a senator, as his grandfather had, and toward the end of the evening campaign workers spotted the college freshman in tears. After that, he temporarily abandoned his interest in politics. When his father successfully ran for Congress

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