Barack Obama

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See also Wikipedia's article about "Barack Obama".
Obama the Columbia undergrad, visiting Central Park

Barack Obama CC '83 is a US Senator from Illinois and will be the 44th President of the United States. He will become the first African-American and the first Columbia graduate to hold the nation's highest office.

Many Columbia students audaciously hoped he would win his primary and the national election. He is the first attendee of Columbia College and the first graduate of any Columbia school[1], to occupy the Oval Office. Obama was also the first Columbia College alumnus to be nominated by a major modern party ticket, and the first CC alum to be a major party nominee since the Federalists nominated DeWitt Clinton in 1812.

Obama, however, tends to forget/ignore his Columbia affiliation, preferring to mention that he attended Harvard Law School. He has repeatedly turned down requests to be the Class Day speaker in recent years, as well as general requests to appear from the College Democrats. He did, however, note that Columbia was his alma mater while visiting during the ServiceNation Presidential Candidates Forum, and sent a letter to the attendees of the Class of 1983's 25th reunion gathering.

Columbia years

The East Harlem tenement where Obama lived during most of his time at Columbia
Obama gets a visit from his grandparents during his Columbia years

Obama transferred to CC from Occidental College which (poor place) is even more rarely mentioned by the young senator. At Occidental, Obama had been into partying and drugs. He hoped the move to New York, and Columbia, would put him on a more serious track.

Columbia at that time did not guarantee university housing for all students, so Obama lived off campus. He claims to have spent his first night sleeping in an alley near the corner of 109th and Amsterdam Avenue and washing with the homeless next to an open fire hydrant. He eventually moved into a walkup on E. 94th St., in Yorkville, where he would "chat with his Puerto Rican neighbors about...the sound of gunfire at night".[2]

When he was on campus, he concentrated on academic work, spending most of his time in Butler Library "like a monk", and made few friends. He also took up jogging and "stopped getting high". The racist and anti-Semitic graffiti he sometimes encountered on bathroom walls on campus (how times never change!) helped him form his ideas about race and class. He wrote of "the almost mathematical precision with which America’s race and class problems joined; the depth, the ferocity, of resulting tribal wars; the bile that flowed freely not just out on the streets but in the stalls of Columbia’s bathrooms as well".[3]

Obama claims to have participated to some extent in anti-apartheid activities with the Black Students Organization, but no one is quite sure.

He majored in PoliSci, and claims to have concentrated in "International Relations," (now International Politics - this is a subfield of the PoliSci major and should not be confused with a "concentration," the Columbia term that substitutes for what most schools term a "minor"). Obama's professors and classmates, including former international politics professor Michael Baron and current MTV president Michael Wolf, confirm that he was a brilliant, standout student and that he was an active participant in seminars. Baron said he was one of the top one or two students in his class. Despite this, Obama continually declines requests to release his Columbia transcript.

Sources first differed on whether he wrote his senior thesis on Soviet nuclear disarmament[4] or the North-South debate on trade and the "new international economic order"[5]. Later, it emerged that he had not really written an official thesis at all: students were not required to do so at the time, and what counted as a "thesis" was really a long seminar paper. Obama wrote his for Prof. Baron's American Foreign Policy class. A search has been launched[6] for a copy of the paper, which was confirmed to have been on the topic of Soviet disarmament. Baron, Obama's de facto "thesis" advisor, is now retired to Florida, and claims to have lost his copy of the paper in a move some time ago.

It has been reported that Obama graduated without honors[7], but if the policies then were the same as they are today, he would not have been eligible for latin honors, because he spent only two years in the college. Obama hoped to become a community organizer, but could not find work as one, and joined a small consulting firm instead. In his memoir, he portrays this as a big corporate job, and claims it prompted fears he was becoming a sellout.

Later Columbia coincidences

In his primary fight to become the Democratic nominee, Obama has faced, among others, GS alum Mike Gravel. His Republican opponent would be John McCain, a former Class Day speaker whose daughter, Meghan McCain, was CC'07. In the general election, he is facing tickets with Wayne Allen Root, also CC'83, the Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee, and independent vice presidential candidate Matt Gonzalez CC'87.


  1. Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt both attended Columbia Law School, but neither graduated, as you only needed to pass the bar after 2 years of school to practice law. One Roosevelt dropped out after passing the bar, the other after being elected to the NY State Assembly. Dwight Eisenhower never attended Columbia, but rather served as a somewhat absentee President of the University while biding his time to run for the Presidency.
  3. Dreams from My Father, p. ?

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