Houston seemed to touch his soul much less than Midland had, and in any case, it was understood in the family that George would be attending Phillips Academy in Andover, the Massachusetts prep school where his father had compiled a splendid record a generation earlier. Andover was far more competitive than St. John's, however, and a magazine article from that time says that 80 percent of Andover applicants were then being turned down. It seems unlikely that George would have been admitted to Andover entirely on his own merits.
But he did not need to be. It was at this juncture that he first got a helping hand from the kind of affirmative action that, particularly in those days, helped many wealthy blue-blood offspring. The Andover admissions process calculated a numeric score for each applicant, ranging from 4 to 20, and then gave a three-point bonus to any son of an Andover graduate. This may diminish young George's achievement in getting into Andover, but it does not take it away entirely. Even among sons of Andover graduates, fewer than half were admitted at that time. Bush says he has no recollection of his grades at Kinkaid, but a friend from that time says he was an A student, and it was those grades and his activities as a class officer and athlete that, along with the fact that he was George Bush's son, put him over the top at Andover.
The adjustment to Andover in the tenth grade was a rough one for young George. At Andover, George's first grade on an essay (about his sister's death from leukemia) was a zero, boldly written in red ink along with the teacher's scrawled comment: "disgraceful." Clay Johnson, a fellow Texan in the class of '64, recalled of Andover: "It was a shocking experience. It was far away from home and rigorous, and scary and demanding. The buildings looked different, and the days were shorter. We went from being at the top of our classes academically to struggling to catch up. We were so much less prepared than kids coming from Massachusetts or New York."
Yet despite the pressure, young George seems to have remained remarkably sunny. Classmates remember him as cheerful and exuberant. When snow began falling in October of his first year, he bounded outside in excitement to catch the snowflakes and try to gather enough for a snowball. "My memory of living with George was that it was probably the funniest year of my life," recalled Donald E. Vermeil, a roommate. Andover was rife with cliques, and George fell into the jock crowd, which was disproportionately made up of boys from beyond the Northeast. Those who played basketball, baseball, or football remember George as moderately talented but scrappy—sometimes excessively so. Once the coach had to pull him out of a basketball game when he became angered at a referee's call and hurled the ball at an opposing player. Yet there was one important area where young George did excel: people skills. It was in high school that he first seemed to cultivate them and exhibit them, using wisecracking showmanship to carve out an identity for himself, an identity that is more subdued today but otherwise intact.
Bush in his stump speeches today comes across not as a policy maven or intellectual but as motivated rather by somewhat hazy ideals, optimism and a yearning to "lift the spirit of America," as he puts it. In all this, there is perhaps an echo of the boy at Andover who long ago finally found his niche by building coalitions across cliques and lifting the spirits of his school. In an institution that respected brains and brawn—excellence in the classroom and on the athletic field—George overflowed with neither. He was a mediocre student and no more than a decent athlete, and he paled in comparison to his father and namesake, who had been excellent at everything he did. Yet in the end, George found alternative ways to claim the stage and become popular. Against the odds, he emerged by force of personality as a signifi-cant figure on campus. No one thought of George W. Bush as a future politician, and he seemed oblivious to the civil rights struggle and other issues of the day. But he worked hard to remember everybody's name and managed to worm his way into the limelight. Very early on, he demonstrated one of the most fundamental political skills: the ability to make people feel good. "You can definitely see the germination of leadership there, even though the activity was not anything you would call political," Randall Roden, a childhood friend of George who also attended Andover, told The New York Times. "He was learning those skills, or perfecting them, at Andover."
George was chosen head cheerleader, which gave him a chance to ham it up in front of crowds. More than cheerleading, though, George's claim to fame at Andover was organizing an intramural stick-ball program. At the weekly assembly in April of his senior year, George stood up and announced the formation of a new stickball league. He was wearing a top hat like a circus showman, and instead of a brief announcement, he offered a twenty-minute speech that had much of the audience in stitches. As his time at Andover wound to a close, George fretted among friends about the pressure to get into Yale, which his father and grandfather had attended, and he hit the books largely with that goal in mind. The dean looked over George's transcript and college boards and then suggested in a kindly way that he apply to some less competitive colleges in addition to Yale. So George applied to the University of Texas as his "safe school," but in the end Yale accepted him.
Yale, like Andover, gave a helping hand to alumni sons in the admission process—far more than now—and it seems unlikely that Bush would have been admitted into Yale otherwise. There were no class rankings at Andover, but George never made honor roll even one term, unlike 110 boys in his class. His SAT scores were 566 for the verbal part and 640 for math. Those were far below the median scores for students admitted to his class at Yale: 668 verbal and 718 math. As he graduated from Andover, George was not a finalist in voting for "most likely to succeed," "most respected," "politico," or any of the other main categories. But, in a reflection of his people skills, he did come in second for "big man on campus."
At Yale, George W. Bush distinguished himself primarily as a hard partier, and he managed to be detained by police twice during his university years: once for stealing a Christmas wreath as a fraternity prank and once for trying to tear down the goalposts during a football game at Princeton. Those episodes underscored Bush's approach to rebellion in the 1960s: At a time when university students denounced police as "pigs," Bush stood with the establishment (yet still got himself arrested for pranks). Pressed at Yale to take sides in the great battles then unfolding over politics, civil rights, drugs, and music, Bush mostly was a noncombatant in those great upheavals, but when forced to choose he ultimately retreated to the values and ideals established by his parents' generation. In short, while some students took to the barricades, Bush took to the bar.
Unlike others of his generation including Bill Clinton, Bush never wore his hair long, agonized over Vietnam, wrestled with existentialism, or cranked up Rolling Stones songs to annoy his parents (instead of hard rock music, he listened to soul). Many young people of privilege who came of age during the 1960s began to question the system and their own values; Bush seems to have grasped his more tightly than ever. He may have broken the law, but he never questioned it. And today, much of his underlying political philosophy rests on the belief that the nation still needs to reverse the psychology of permissiveness and liberalism that began to take root in the country in the late 1960s.
Bush's transcript at Yale shows that he was a solid C student. Although a history major, he sampled widely in the social sciences and did poorly in political science and economics while achieving some of his best grades (the equivalent of a B+) in philosophy and anthropology. The transcript indicates that in Bush's freshman year, the only year for which rankings were available, he was in the twenty-first percentile of his class—meaning that four-fifths of the students were above him. Yet at the same time that he was earning Cs at Yale, Bush displayed a formidable intelligence in another way. At his induction into the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity, he and others were asked to name all fifty-four pledges in the room. Most were were able to name only five or six. When it was Bush's turn, he named every single one. Later he rose to become president of DKE, and he was also tapped into Skull and Bones, an elite secret society to which his father had also belonged.