WASHINGTON - Al Gore was not among the boys at St. Albans school dubbed "the Mocksters," the young men who posed in 1965 for their senior high school yearbook picture in nerdy glasses and bow ties to subtly poke fun at academia for posterity. Instead, young Gore sits in the front row for the picture with a straight tie and a world of gravitas.
If the Mocksters needed inspiration, they only needed to visit another exclusive prep school - Andover, the Massachusetts academy where a year earlier a senior named George W. Bush was earning his nickname, "Lip." With a half-grin and a perpetual comeback, Bush made his mark not with earnestness but with attitude.
Bush and Gore are now in their early 50s, but it is almost as if their differences as presidential candidates can be traced to their years as students at St. Albans in Washington, D.C., Class of '65; and Andover in Andover, Mass., Class of '64.
In this first presidential campaign to pit one prep school alumnus against another (as far as anyone can tell), the candidates could have been rivals from as long ago as the days of Dance Committee and Government Club. Gore was one of the St. Albans prefects with authority to give fellow classmates demerits; Bush was entrusted with the responsibility of preparing a garbage pail full of booze for football games.
The two young men in their khakis and blue-blazer days would have been competing species in the Darwinian landscape of high school. Bush turned his attentions fiercely outward, Gore went inward. Bush realized he lacked the athletic abilities for varsity sports, classmates remember, and instead became a cheerleader, so he could still mix with the jocks and live in the center of the school's social scene. Gore made captain of the football team, but acquaintances recall that he kept largely to himself, approaching work and play with more determination than boundless boyish exuberance.
"The two couldn't have been more different," says Reed Hundt, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission who attended prep school with Gore and lived several doors away from Bush at Yale. "Even now I see how true that is."
"They were coming from such opposite places - I can't in my memory find a single quality they shared," agrees Peter Schandorff, who attended prep school with Bush and shared the same Harvard dorm with Gore.
Before they were Republican nominee Bush and Democratic nominee Gore, the men adopted opposite outlooks on life - Bush wryly mocking the way prep school primed leaders of the ruling class, Gore studiously embracing it.
In 1965, the year Gore graduated from St. Albans, the place seemed reminiscent of a musty 19th-century pseudo-British public school. The students in Gore's graduating class were told to choose the "hard right over the easy wrong," a line Gore would repeat when accepting the Democratic presidential nomination more than three decades later. Gore worked doggedly in sometimes frustrated pursuit of scholar-athlete star-power, laboring from the Social Committee to the Debate Club with a set-jaw tenacity. While others rebelled, Gore found a place in this world of authority, and had little patience for those who defied it.
"He didn't like the Rolling Stones, and I asked him why and he said very emphatically, 'They have no class,'" recalls John Siscoe, a fellow boarder when Gore lived at St. Albans for a year. "That was one of his favorite putdowns. If something or someone didn't have class, it was improper in some way - it was disrespectful of authority. I think he kind of wanted to be rebellious and it pained him that he couldn't be when other people always got away with it."
Classmates believed the future vice president seemed destined even then to follow in the footsteps of his father, a U.S. senator from Tennessee. Gore was more circumspect than other boys, they said, going to bed by midnight while others stayed up late playing guitar; he kept stories of girlfriends and visits to his family farm largely to himself.
While kids became part of cliques, Gore stayed more to himself, friend Geoff Kuhn recalls; young Gore sometimes visited Kuhn's mother instead of Kuhn. Friends remember Gore's grades were middling but his resolve formidable: "I realized the best way to get along with Al," Kuhn says, "was not to compete with him."
But there was another side to Gore, one sometimes called "Gorf," that helped get him get elected football captain, despite the fact that he wasn't a superstar player (in fact, only a 165-pound center). The yearbook, which bemoans the team's "most dismal" 1-7 record, shows Gore smiling from a toilet-paper festooned rec room.
"We went to the first Beatles concert here and threw jellybeans at Ringo Starr's drums just like everybody else," remembers Hundt. So there was not just classic Gore drive, he remembers, but "Louie, Louie" and the Twist, too.
Anecdotes about both boys might seem to support the least flattering stereotypes about them as adults - Gore being labeled impenetrable over the eight years he spent at St. Albans from elementary school through high school, Bush dubbed "Tweeds" for his boss-like role in the school's social world upon his arrival as a sophomore. But their prep days show a more shaded picture.
In the Andover Class of 1964, Bush - a decent athlete but not the best, a decent student but not the best - gave up trying to excel where his father, the future president, had. (The elder Bush was a star baseball player at Andover; young Bush sat on the bench while the son of legendary ballplayer Hank Greenberg pitched instead of him.)
Bush instead turned to the skill that came most naturally to him: his ability to make fast friends. At an austere academy known for time-consuming homework and mandatory chapel, he became the head cheerleader, hosting pep rallies and belting out the fight song, "Victorious Royal Blue." He donned a rumpled fedora and sunglasses and dubbed himself the "High Commissioner of Stickball," turning a street game into an ironic prep school tradition.
"Being stickball commissioner was sort of a parody of student government and the clubs and honors that people had," says the Rev. Alexander "Sandy" Greene, a classmate. "We were part of this institution that was designed to create the next ruling class, let's be honest, but a lot of us had this sense that we weren't going to take it too seriously."
Many friends never expected Bush to run for president - "I could see him doing that thing Bill Maher does, talking about the issues, really enjoying himself but not taking himself or any of the people too seriously," Greene says. They remembered him more for his jocular charm and ability to unleash abundant adolescent charisma. But underneath was a boy who seemed rarely to doubt himself in a setting that tested even the most self-confident.
"He always did this little Elvis-like sneer - he was a walking debate team, you couldn't tell him anything, no matter how wrong he was he'd stand his ground and just face you right down," remembers classmate and friend W. DeWolf Fulton. "It was always in a humorous, you're-full-of-bull way, but he was just so persuasive."
"There was never any, 'Did I make the right choice coming here?'" says classmate Clay Johnson, chief of staff in the Texas governor's office. "He would turn it in, get onto the next thing and if it didn't work out, do something else."
Bush's own brand of drive made its mark. "A fellow a year behind us said, 'Think back to a list of 10 people that for whatever reason, just stood out,'" Johnson says. "We agreed, George would have made those lists."