The Yale Men
They all attended the same school, but Lieberman, Dean, Kerry, and the president traveled disparate paths in a turbulent decade
Bush and his friends discussed Vietnam in practical terms, strategizing about how to deal with the draft after graduation. Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard and later said that he couldn't remember protests on campus and that he didn't "remember any heaviness ruining my time at Yale." Says Bush friend Terry Johnson: "I viewed us as the last innocent class . . . the last happy days before drugs and Black Panthers and hippies."
HOWARD DEAN '71
To freshmen arriving in fall 1967, the "happy days" were history. Riots had erupted in New Haven just a few weeks earlier. And St. George's prep school in Rhode Island, known for producing a bumper crop of rising Yalies each spring, had managed to get only one graduate through Yale's newly tightened gates, a feisty wrestler named Howard Dean.
Dean had requested an African-American roommate and wound up rooming with two southern blacks and a white Pennsylvanian. Howard Brush Dean III, for his part, had grown up on New York's Park Avenue and in the Hamptons, the son of a third-generation Wall Street broker. "He wasn't embarrassed by his background," says Yale friend Jeffrey Knight, "but he downplayed its significance."
Dean greeted Yale's emerging diversity as a welcome departure from prep school and even had a name for pretentious peers: "fatuous butts." "Howard did not suffer people to be false or have airs," says Yale friend Ernie Robson. His black roommates discussed civil rights and taught him bid whist, a raucous card game. "They gave insight to a world where you can't expect things to go your way," Dean tells U.S. News. "It's one thing to read about racism; it's another to see it affect people you live with."
While his roommates were active in black politics, Dean was loath to join the civil rights or antiwar movements. "I distrusted the left . . . people who said anything in the service of ideology," he says. Instead, Dean tutored in a poor neighborhood and student-taught in public school. "I had a strong feeling about social justice," he says. "But politics was discredited in my eyes because of Nixon."
Dean also avoided campus organizations, which were widely seen as too "establishment." He'd been active in prep school extracurriculars, and, while he played intramural football at Yale, he reveled in his freedom. He got decent grades without trying too hard. "After Howard had the formula down for getting through, he went into a period of introspection," says a former roommate, Ralph Dawson. While not politically active, Dean was a political science major with a predilection for courses in revolutionary movements. A college transcript obtained by U.S. News shows Dean took classes on international communism, Chinese politics, Soviet history, and Marxist existentialism.
Voom. His antics, too, embodied a late-'60s ethos. He was known for spontaneous proclamations like "Let's go to New York right now!" and had adopted the word "voompah," transliterated from a Beatles lyric, as a call to act whimsically. "If someone was being reticent, someone else would say, `Come on--let's voompah!' " says David Berg, a friend from Yale. Dean's friends emblazoned the word on their beer mugs. Dean and other sophomores pledged Zeta Psi, hoping to chip away at Zeta's exclusivity, in part by opening a basement coffeehouse for all students. When those plans foundered, Dean quit.