Famous Philips Academy Grads
Famous St. Albans Grads
Long before Al Gore and George W. Bush were running for president of the United States, they were teenagers attending prestigious preparatory schools.
Gore attended the exclusive St. Albans School for Boys in Washington, D.C.
Bush attended the equally elite Phillips Academy, a New England boarding school better known as "Andover" or "P.A." to the preppy students who stroll the picturesque campus.
Both institutions were all-boys schools at the time (Andover first admitted girls in 1973) and both continue to graduate impressive lists of alumni who have gone on to become politicians, celebrities, and world leaders.
As teens, Gore and Bush were prominent figures at their respective schools. How did their years at these elite institutions shape the candidates' characters and their political careers? What is it like going to St. Albans or Andover? And is there a significant advantage to attending private school?
George W. Bush: Phillips Academy
Located on a hilltop
in the quiet town of Andover, Mass., 25 miles north of Boston, Phillips
is the United States' oldest incorporated boarding school. It was incorporated
in 1778 while the Revolutionary War was still being fought. Paul Revere
designed the school's seal and John Hancock signed its Act of Incorporation.
Andover, like most elite prep schools, feels more like a small private college than high school. Andover offers some 300 courses in 18 academic departments. Classes average about 14 students each (compared to a public school average of around 30), and a student- teacher ratio of 6 to 1.
The school's 500-acre campus boasts an art gallery with some 12,000 works, an archaeology museum, a 65-acre bird sanctuary, an astronomy observatory, a licensed FM radio station, and its own private hockey rink.
"The most special and unique aspect of PA is the people here," says Brad Meacham, a senior at Andover who ran for student body president. "The students and teachers are extremely diverse, and PA presents the opportunity to meet and learn about so many different people. This creates a learning atmosphere that extends far beyond the classroom."
Andover's students come from just about every state in the U.S. and 25 foreign countries and, according to Andover, 30 percent of the student body are students of color.
Today, the school also accepts women. Graduates say this has changed the atmosphere of the campus. "I think Andover has become a lot less conservative since girls were admitted," says Carolyn Grace, Class of '99. "It has lost a lot of its traditions -- there isn't a dress code anymore, and we aren't required to go to chapel or eat meals together. But at the same time it is becoming more accepting and allows for more individuality among the student body."
Of course an Andover education isn't cheap: $24,500 a year for boarding students and $19,800 a year for day students - and that is not including $1,600 each year for books and living expenses. That's more than most state universities charge.
The school spends about 12 percent of its operating budget on scholarship; about two in five students receives financial aid. The average grant is $17,300.
George at Andover
George Bush says his own education policy stems from the strong foundation he received at Andover. Yet, from the start, George W. was never a model student. His first grade at Andover was a zero for an essay about the death of his sister and he never once made honor roll.
George did excel in the social realm. He was head cheerleader (mostly a boys' sport back then), as well as the self-appointed "high commissioner of stickball" who organized and umpired the games. This role was his biggest claim to fame at Andover. One of George's classmates recently told The New York Times that George's stickball extravaganzas were "an inspired scheme with definite political implications."
As head cheerleader, George led a series of improvisational skits and pep talks during the weekly Andover assemblies. When some school officials worried that it detracted from the football team, the school newspaper published an editorial titled "In Defense of Bush's Antics" along with a picture of George and his friends dressed in short skirts and stuffed bras as drag cheerleaders.
George, nicknamed "The Lip," never received the nomination for "most likely to succeed" or "most likely to be president" in the Andover yearbook. But he did place second for the title of "big man on campus."
Al Gore: St. Albans
Resting atop one of the highest points in Washington DC, St. Albans School for boys sits on the wooded site of the elegant Washington National Cathedral. Like Andover, St. Albans has first-class facilities including two libraries, two gymnasiums, three art studios, and an indoor swimming pool.
Tuition is about $13,000 a year (a few boarding students pay more) and the admissions office chooses just one of every five applicants. The school spends about 10 percent of its operating budget on scholarship; about one in five students receives financial aid.
1996 graduate Jon
McVoy says the advantage of going to a school like St. Albans is the
attention students are given and the quality of their total education
- academics and otherwise.
"We had teachers who cared about us not only as human beings but also as friends - as someone to talk to, as advisors, who always had their doors opened and who never hesitated to take the extra five minutes to explain something to you after class," he said. "Class sizes were small and we got to know our teachers much better than at a public school."
St. Albans is also shaped by its religious background. The school opened in 1909 as a school for choirboys, funded by President James Buchanan's niece. Boys still go to chapel for a 30-minute service twice a week during their entire nine years at St. Albans.
"Going to chapel together twice a week fostered a community and set priorities," said Chuck Cassidy, a 1996 St. Albans graduate. "I think going to an all-male school allows things that wouldn't be possible in a coed school - the discipline involved and the attitude of the student body was different than what I experienced at a coed school."
St. Albans' most famous headmaster, the late Canon Charles Martin who was headmaster during Al Gore's time, is remembered as saying he was "preparing boys for the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdom of Harvard."
Nevertheless, St. Albans was known as a "pipeline" to Princeton and Harvard. In the mid-1950s Harvard accepted all 16 St. Albans graduates who applied, and by the mid-1960s, all it took to get into Harvard was a recommendation from St. Albans, The Washington Post reported. Today, the Vice President of Harvard, James H. Rowe, sits on St. Albans board of directors.
McVoy recalls that among his class of 75 students, 27 ended up going to Ivy League schools like Princeton and Harvard. Others went to top schools such as Stanford and Duke. One such St. Albans alumnus who would go on to attend an Ivy League school, Harvard, was future Vice President of the United States, Albert Arnold "Al" Gore, Jr.
at St. Albans
Al Gore began attending St. Albans in 1956, at the age of 8 in "Form C," or the fourth grade. His father was just completing his first term as Senator from Tennessee. The strict discipline of St. Albans was something the young Al, unlike most adolescent boys, conformed to rather than rebelled against. St. Albans maintained a strict coat-and-tie dress code and Gore learned how to tie a Windsor knot by the age of 9.
Gore grew to be
the very model of a St. Albans boy - well rounded, a model citizen,
religious, a young leader, and an honest and community-minded individual.
"I think the
school fosters basic ideals and that certainly had an impression on
Al Gore and I am sure it did have an impression on him that made him
the man he is today," said graduate Chuck Cassidy. "[St. Albans]
was a lot more than academics
it is smaller and so it fosters a
sense of community and focuses its students on priorities that are not
academic. It allows students to think about what their duties are to
the community at large, to the school, and to their classmates. For
Gore, I think the impression [St. Albans] left on him was that he was
a privileged son, that he should recognize that, and with the privilege
came responsibility - a Christian philosophy to "do for others
as you would do for yourself."
Al stood out as a model citizen and a leader. Al excelled in politics, sang in the Glee Club, took art classes, and was the top debater in the Government Club. His class yearbook includes a drawing of Al modeled after a statue of George Washington at the National Cathedral next to the school.
Al got mainly B's and C's with the exception of straight A's in art and an A-plus in religion. In his senior year, he lost the election for the highest school leader, "senior prefect," to the class star athlete. He was elected captain of the football team, but finished the season with an embarrassing 1-7 record.
But teachers seemed to love Al and Headmaster Cannon Martin wrote on Gore's report card that Al was "selfless" and possessed a level of "leadership most unusual."
The Old Boys Network
George W. Bush and Al Gore maintained at least some of their prep school friendships for the rest of their lives. Bush's Andover classmate and fellow Texan Clay Johnson is now Bush's appointments secretary.
At a recent Andover reunion, Johnson handed Bush a list showing a prestigious Bush Administration appointment for every one of their Adover classmates. The list was meant as a joke (and a good way to help raise contributions) but it also shows the powerful impact of friendships formed at these prestigious schools.
Al Gore's St. Albans pal Reed Hundt now serves on Gore's presidential campaign as what he calls "informal 'oldest friend' advisor." Reed and Al attended The Beatles' first U.S. concert together and later were debate partners.
Today, Hundt is a senior advisor with a prestigious consulting firm and previously served as the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Hundt later attended school with George W. Bush at Yale.
Another St. Albans ally for Al, though several years behind him at St. Albans, is Senator Evan Bayh from Indiana. Like Al Gore, Bayh is also the son of a senator who went on to become a senator himself. Both Gore and Bayh call themselves "New Democrats" and conferred often during their time together in the U.S. Senate. Bayh had been linked to Gore many times earlier in the year as a possible running mate -creating the potential for the first all-St. Albans ticket in history.
Do these stories show there is an "old boys network" among graduates of these prestigious schools? Many alumni are hesitant to admit it flat out. But St. Albans and Andover, like most colleges, mail free alumni networking books to their graduates and encourage alumni to stay in touch and help each other find jobs. As Jon McVoy puts it, "You aren't guaranteed a job because you went to St. Albans, but they have done a lot of the work for you by way of giving you a list of contacts."
One recent St. Albans graduate interviewed for this article said he's still close with his St. Albans "brothers" who all now hold high-salaried positions on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley. He dreams of "hitting up" his St. Albans friends for loans some day to finance a bar or restaurant.
Private School vs. Public School
Would Gore and Bush be where they are today if they had attended ordinary public schools? Maybe, but it may might not have been quite as easy a climb.
The connections and prestige associated with schools like Andover and St. Albans certainly haven't hurt people like Gore, Bush and their classmates who have likewise risen to positions of power and influence in politics, medicine, and business.
But public school advocates say there's a downside to private schools. The privileged setting can hinder "real world" practical life-skills - such as learning to cope with less-than-stellar teachers and in less-than-ideal circumstances.
Motivated students in public schools learn to make their own opportunities, a skill that can help in any profession. Some people are also concerned that private school students don't understand the hardships that other people go through.
In recent years, most small private schools have tried hard to recruit minority and international students, and to offer financial aid to talented students from poor families.
But 35 years ago, when Bush and Gore were teens, these schools were not very diverse. Almost all the students were wealthy, white, Protestant boys.
Tell us what you think about the private vs public school debate.
--Written by Heather Hegedus
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