As a bright soft-spoken college student, President-elect Barack Obama spent two years at Occidental in nearby Eagle Rock. The young Obama, who went by the nickname of Barry then, transferred from the small but highly regarded liberal arts college to Columbia University in New York at the end of his sophomore year. He left some strong impressions with fellow Oxy students, surprisingly, those impressions were not the type they associated with someone who would one day be President of the United States.
Some of Obama’s Oxy classmates shared snippets of what the future President was like during his early college years in an article, “Obama at Occidental,” by Lyle James Slack in the January issue of the local Verdugo Monthly. My favorite story is from Ken Sulzer, a senior partner with a large international law firm, who was in one of Obama’s political science classes: “Obama and I were walking back to the dorm and — listen, I was a year older and I thought I was a pretty smart guy — so I say, ‘I got an A, Barry, what’d you get?’ And he kind of wouldn’t tell me and just tried to change the subject in his low-key cool way. So I grabbed his paper out of his hand — and he’d gotten an A-plus. That’s when it hit me just how bright he was.”
Obama would spend many more years studying, listening, and learning without drawing a lot of attention to himself. A trait, that in retrospect, has served him well.
Meanwhile, Oxy alumni will probably be trading more stories about their now famous classmate at a reception on January 19 in Washington D.C., the day before Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president.