Exclusive Interview: Becoming Barack Obama

The Democratic presidential candidates talks about his schooling and growing up in Hawaii


Barack Obama took time out from his campaigning in Colorado last week to speak by phone with Chief White House Correspondent Kenneth T. Walsh about his childhood in Hawaii; specifically, how it shaped his life, his character, and his political philosophy. Excerpts:

On cultural diversity. When I was growing up and going to school, we would go to a Hawaiian potluck and a Japanese wedding or meet some Portuguese friends of my grandfather's and play checkers with them. There would just be a range of different people, and you'd learn to appreciate people's different cultures and different styles.

On Hawaii. My years in Hawaii make me more attuned to certain issues—the environment being a good example. Fairly early on, growing up in Hawaii, not only do you appreciate the natural beauty, but there is a real ethic of concern for the land that dates back to the native Hawaiians. So it was natural for me, I think, growing up, to be concerned about these issues in a way now I think is common across the country but was more deeply embedded in Hawaii at the time. And the same would be true for my appreciation of Asian culture and the importance of the Pacific Rim. Obviously, as somebody who grew up in that area, you know, I'm particularly attuned to the rise of Asian economies and what that may mean for the United States.

On criticism that he is an "elitist." It's the opposite of the life I led there and the life I've led for the last 46 years. This is a good example of how your image in public oftentimes doesn't match up with who you are, but the press runs with it and it gets deeply embedded and people get snippets and then that becomes a story line. Anyone who goes back and learns about my growing up in Hawaii knows we lived very humbly. My grandmother still lives in the apartment where essentially I lived all through high school. It's a two-bedroom condo that could probably fit into a lot of living rooms these days.

On ice cream. I worked for Baskin-Robbins down the street from my grandmother's apartment. And it was tough work. I was behind the counter. I had the uniform and everything. That was one of my first jobs. And I haven't really been the same with ice cream since. I don't really eat ice cream much.

On attending the exclusive Punahou School in Honolulu. It is just an outstanding place to learn. You know, when I first got there, I was a little bit out of place. It did not have a large African-American population. I was coming from a foreign country. Most of the students there were wealthier than I was. You know, we were on a partial scholarship. It certainly probably made me somewhat class conscious in the sense many of my classmates had big homes and fancy cars of their own and were living much more lavishly than I was.