The Washington Post

Mitt Romney’s prep school and college days: What do they really tell us?

Those are the type of questions that I saw pop up on Twitter and Facebook as people discussed an article about GOP contender Mitt Romney’s prep school days, which was published on The Post’s Web site on Thursday. The article detailed several “pranks” that Romney pulled in the 1960s in Michigan, including allegedly attacking a fellow classmate and cutting his hair. Romney apologized Thursday for any pranks, hijinks or “dumb things” he did as a student that hurt or offended anyone.

Mitt Romney’s senior photo, 1965. (Courtesy of Cranbrook Schools)

Romney isn’t the first politician to see his high school or college years discussed by a nation decades later. President Obama included details of his teenage drug use in his memoir. George W. Bush’s Yale University transcript shows that he was a C student. Bill Clinton rehashed having tried pot while a Rhodes scholar at the University of Oxford.

Outside of the race for the president, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s undergraduate years at Princeton University were scrutinized during the confirmation process when her senior thesis and a student newspaper column became public.

And Facebook didn’t exist when these people were in school. The Onion has already satirically declared: “Every Potential 2040 President Already Unelectable Due to Facebook.”

Digging into someone’s past will always be interesting, and it will usually always result in some snippets of information that help you better understand that person. That's why I like to ask college presidents what they were like as undergraduates — and why the topic of high school or hometowns or family usually comes up on a first date.

But what do you do with that information? New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait has summed up this conundrum: “It is tricky business to extrapolate from a teenager’s behavior to conclusions about his makeup as an adult. Some of us become radically different people as we grow up, and others — as is often on display at a high-school reunion — simply become older versions of their teenage selves.”

What do you think? What do your high school and college days say about you? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more higher education news, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter. And here are other articles on this topic:

Mitt Romney’s prep school classmates recall pranks, but also troubling incidents (May 2012)

Mitt Romney apologizes for high school pranks that ‘might have gone too far’ (May 2012)

Mitt Romney, as a student at a chaotic time for BYU, focused on family, church (February 2012)

Jenna Johnson is a political reporter who is covering the 2016 presidential campaign.


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