If you’re bored in statistics class and wondering whether the kid sitting next to you is likely to become a future president of the United States, ask yourselves these questions about him (or yourself, if you want to become the commander in chief one day).

Karl Stampfl

Has he won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University in England, like Bill Clinton?

Has he ever told his father that the letter grade “D” stood for distinction, as last year’s Democratic candidate John Kerry did while at Yale University?

Is he a member of Michigamua, the underground society at the University of Michigan that counts Gerald Ford as an alum, or Yale’s Skull and Bones, which boasts both members of the Bush father-son tandem?

Is he still an only child, unlike every president in this country’s history?

Is he the editor of his campus newspaper, as Franklin Roosevelt was at Harvard?

Has he ever been arrested for stealing a wreath from a fraternity house, like our current leader?

Is he planning on going to attend law school to become the 25th president with a law degree? Or do people strongly suspect he will enter the clergy after graduation, as Woodrow Wilson’s classmates did at Davidson College in North Carolina?

Is he a prominent varsity athlete, like Clinton (rugby), Ford (football), George H.W. Bush (baseball) and Ronald Reagan (football)? Did he turn down contract offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers to go to law school (Ford)?

Is he an actor, like Reagan?

Did he have to refuse an acceptance to Harvard because his family couldn’t afford its steep price tag, like Richard Nixon? Does he play violin for the school orchestra, as Nixon also did?

Is he on pace to complete college in three years with a degree in economics, like George H.W. Bush did?

Is his main concern in college swimming, as John F. Kennedy’s was?

The point is that it’s futile to judge presidential candidates by their college careers — a recent fad in last year’s presidential election that has been continued with last week’s release of Kerry’s transcript. Presidents’ careers have been too diverse to do that. Maybe you don’t agree with Kerry’s or Bush’s politics, but it’s not fair to blame it on their grades.

As future candidates roam the halls of our finest (or not so fine) institutions, it’s a crapshoot — to use a term rarely associated with the presidential selection process — as to who among them will rise to this country’s highest office. So what if Bush’s efforts topped out at an 88-percent grade or if Kerry’s best was a 79 in political science? We all know that grades aren’t the only important part of college by a long shot. Maybe Bush could have done better but chose not to, electing to spend his time at the fraternity instead of the library. Either way, I haven’t found any evidence correlating a person’s performance in Modern European Poetry in Translation to his ability to lead a nation of 295 million people. Bush may not have understood, for example, the finer points of the sonnet. That doesn’t mean he’s not a responsible executive.

Remember voting for the person most likely to become president in high school? Turns out your prediction couldn’t have been very accurate, because even during college, future commanders in chief are often hidden beneath the disguise of poor grade- point averages and All-American football honors. That’s assuming they’re even in school, unlike nine presidents, including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who never even set foot in a college classroom.


Stampfl is a Daily fall/winter administration beat reporter. He can be reached at kstampfl@umich.edu.

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