With Presidents’ Day wrapping up yesterday, it’s as good a time as any to stop for a minute and honor the legacy of George “The American Fabius” Washington and the presidents that followed him. (Sidenote: the Wikipedia page titled “List of nicknames of United States Presidents” is a gem. I mean, who knew that Franklin Pierce’s nickname was “Young Hickory of the Granite Hills”?)
That being said, Yale is particularly well represented in the list of US Presidents (or underrepresented, if you only compare us with Harvard). We have five: William Howard Taft, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. If you were running for president in the 1980s or 1990s as a Yale alumnus, your odds were pretty good. Other things that probably would have improved your odds: Skull and Bones membership (Taft, Bush and Bush), being a Caucasian male (everyone!), and having a family that could be described as powerful (Taft, Bush, Bush).
Some things you didn’t know about our Eli presidents:
- William “Big Lub” Howard Taft: Taft graduated from Yale College in 1878, and was second in his class (even without grade inflation). At Yale, he was an intramural heavyweight wrestling champion and a member of Skull and Bones (which was founded by his dad…)
- Gerald “Mr. Nice Guy” Ford: Ford graduated from Yale Law in 1941 — unlike Clarence Thomas, he was fine with his portrait being hung in the Law School (what a nice guy!). Apparently, the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions both wanted him to coach football, but he came to Yale Law instead and served as an assistant coach for both boxing and football.
- George “Poppy” H.W. Bush: Bush graduated from Yale College in 1948; he was accepted before enlisting in the military and matriculated after he was discharged. He also had a ton of extracurriculars, including baseball, cheerleading, DKE, and Skull and Bones,
- Bill “The Comeback Kid” Clinton: Clinton graduated from Yale Law in 1973. While he was there, he met HILLARY.
- George “Dubya” Bush: Bush graduated from Yale College in 1968. He was president of DKE, a member of the rugby team, Skull and Bones, and a cheerleader. (I guess being a male cheerleader has only recently stopped being a thing?)
Of course, the main question is why Yale has been such a presidential magnet. While it isn’t shy about wanting to educate future leaders, I think we have a tradition of entering government en masse that stands out from the other Ivies — check out the numbers here.
Indeed, as Yale Law Dean Anthony Kronman said in an interview with the YDN, “Yale’s commitment to public service is old and deep… [and] stands for two things: a kind and degree of intellectual adventurousness and a commitment to public service that views the law as an instrument of social improvement.”