Obamas College Essays

“The challenge of being a first child is to be normal within the context of all the scrutiny, and the challenge of everybody around them is to pretend like they’re normal and nothing’s out of the ordinary, which puts an enormous amount of stress on both the kid and the school,” said Gil Troy, a presidential historian at McGill University and the author of “The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.” “The larger the institutional ego of the place, the more comfortable you can feel about the ability to cope with that and still have as close to a normal experience as possible.”

Harvard has long been a destination for the children of American and foreign leaders as well as those of celebrities and the ultrawealthy; its police force even has a three-person dignitary protection unit.

By deferring her start date until 2017, Malia may be maximizing her chances of having an ordinary freshman year, removed from the kind of news media attention and social media chatter her parents have worked to fend off for their daughters throughout Mr. Obama’s time in office. Malia had a taste of what life outside the White House might be like during a college tour last fall, when students posted photographs of her at a Brown University party.

“The degree to which every presidential child is half a millisecond away or a snapshot away or an Instagram away from scandal — it’s really kind of unfair,” Mr. Troy said. Once the parent has left office, he added, “the kids can get to at least some level of irrelevance that they absolutely cannot get when they’re still in the White House.”

The gap year will also allow the Obamas to avoid the type of spectacle that heralded the arrival of Chelsea Clinton for her freshman year at Stanford University in 1997. Bill and Hillary Clinton arrived on campus to drop her off with more than 200 reporters in tow. Dozens of Secret Service agents swarmed the scene, investigating parked vehicles and trying unsuccessfully to blend in.

When it came time for President George W. Bush’s twin daughters to attend college — Barbara at Yale University and Jenna at the University of Texas at Austin — things were much more low-key, recalled Anita McBride, a former chief of staff to Laura Bush.

“It was a different time, and there was not this constant front-and-center focus on where these girls were and what they were doing,” Ms. McBride said. With Malia, she added, “We’ve watched her grow up to a certain degree in the public eye, and people feel it’s their business to know.”

Both the White House and the top-tier colleges said to be Malia’s favorites had been barraged with questions in recent days about where she would choose to go. When she accompanied her father on a trip to California last month, speculation raged about whether Malia had tagged along to give Stanford University a final look before committing to go there. Conjecture only grew after a photograph surfaced late Saturday night of Malia wearing a crimson Harvard 2020 T-shirt.

Harvard said little on Sunday beyond confirming that Malia had accepted an offer of admission and had deferred enrollment for a year. But on campus, where students were studying Sunday for final exams, the news was greeted by many with rivalrous pride.

Harvard accepted just 5.2 percent of applicants this year, making it the second-most selective college in the country after Stanford. It is also one of the most expensive, costing more than $60,000 a year for tuition, room, board and other fees.

Sidwell Friends School, the elite Washington prep school where Malia is a senior, typically sends a handful of students to Harvard each year.

The list of presidential children who have attended Harvard includes John Quincy Adams and his son, John Adams II; Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert; the sons of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt; Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of John F. Kennedy; and George W. Bush, who went to business school there.

Malia will quickly be put in touch with that history when she arrives on campus. Freshmen typically live in Harvard Yard, the university’s historic center, and take their meals in Annenberg Hall, a grand Victorian cafeteria lined with portraits and busts of early American leaders.

White House officials would not comment on Sunday on how Malia would spend the year until she enrolls. She has spent parts of the past two summers working on television sets in New York and Los Angeles, a path she could continue.

First, though, is graduation, which Sidwell holds in early June. Mr. Obama has made it very clear that the speaker at the ceremony will not be him.

“Malia is more than ready to leave, but I’m not ready for her to leave,” he said on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” in February. “And I was asked if I would speak at her graduation, and I said, ‘Absolutely not,’ because I’m going to be sitting there with dark glasses, sobbing.”

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Paper Trail

Did Barack Obama's thesis for Columbia University, entitled 'Aristocracy Reborn,' note that America's founding fathers 'did not allow for economic freedom'?

  Barack Obama’s thesis for Columbia University, entitled “Aristocracy Reborn,” noted that America’s founding fathers “did not allow for economic freedom.”


I saw someone online claim that the following is a quote from Barack Obama’s thesis at Columbia contains the following segment:

“… the Constitution allows for many things, but what it does not allow is the most revealing. The Founders did not allow for economic freedom. While political freedom is supposedly a cornerstone of the document, the distribution of wealth is not even mentioned. While many believed that the new Constitution gave them liberty, it instead fitted them with the shackles of hypocrisy.”


  In academia, a thesis is a typical requirement for a graduate degree (although some schools require a thesis for a bachelor’s degree as well), an original research project submitted by a student on a topic related to his major. Many universities keep their students’ theses on file and make them available to the public as library resources.

In recent years, theses written by U.S. presidential candidates and their spouses have become subjects of great interest, particularly for the possibility that they might provide some insight into the thinking and mindsets of their authors, including the disclosure of once-held viewpoints that might be now be considered controversial and disadvantageous to their current political careers (or those of their spouses). Accordingly, major political figures have become more circumspect about allowing public access to their theses: Former First Lady 1969 Wellesley College thesis on community organizer Alinsky, for example, was not available for examination by the public during the eight years of her husband’s presidency, and current First Lady 1985 Princeton University thesis on “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community” was the subject of controversy when access to it was initially blocked during her husband’s campaign for the presidency. (The Obama campaign made a copy of Michelle’s thesis publicly available in February 2008, and Princeton’s restriction on access to it was likewise lifted.)

Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign (and afterwards), one of the items that was frequently cited as a “missing document” connected with Barack Obama was his own thesis for Columbia University, a school from which he graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in political science (with a specialization in international relations). Politico noted in October 2008 that:

His campaign would not release his transcripts, and it says it does not have a copy of his thesis, which dealt with Soviet nuclear disarmament and which has drawn intense interest.

As far as has been determined, Barack Obama did not produce a formal thesis for his degree at Columbia University; the closest match is a paper he wrote during his senior year for an honors seminar in American Foreign Policy. However, Columbia University has said it did not retain a copy of that paper, Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt has said that Barack himself does not have a copy, and the professor to whom the paper was submitted has said that he no longer has a copy in his possession either:

[Baron] had saved Obama’s senior paper for years, and even hunted for it again [in July 2008] in some boxes. But he said his search was fruitless, and he now thinks he tossed it out [in 2000] during a move.


described [Obama’s] paper as a “thesis” or “senior thesis” in several interviews, and said that Obama spent a year working on it. Baron recalls that the topic was nuclear negotiations with the Soviet Union.

“My recollection is that the paper was an analysis of the evolution of the arms reduction negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States,” Baron said in an e-mail. “At that time, a hot topic in foreign policy circles was finding a way in which each country could safely reduce the large arsenal of nuclear weapons pointed at the For U.S. policy makers in both political parties, the aim was not disarmament, but achieving deep reductions in the Soviet nuclear arsenal and keeping a substantial and permanent American advantage. As I remember it, the paper was about those negotiations, their tactics and chances for success. Barack got an A.”

Baron said that, even if he could find a copy of the paper, it would likely disappoint Obama’s critics. “The course was not a polemical course, it was a course in decision making and how decisions got made,” he said. “None of the papers in the class were controversial.”

So would it provide any political ammunition today? “I don’t think it would at all,” Baron said. “It wasn’t a position paper; it was an analysis of decision-making.”

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