Celebrating Presidents Day: The Education of Our National Leaders
As the leader of the most powerful country in the world, the President of the United States must responsibly manage both domestic and international affairs. Lucky for us, though many Presidents did obviate the traditional college and university system, each did clearly possess the willingness to educate himself. So in honor of President’s Day, let’s examine some of the more unique educational paths to the Presidency.
George Washington, our very first Commander in Chief, attended the College of William and Mary to obtain his surveyor’s license. Even though the early death of his father abruptly halted Washington’s formal schooling, he remained an enthusiastic proponent of education. In his will, he provided resources and funds to support three different educational institutions.
Many people overlook the fact that Thomas Jefferson was an intellectual. It wasn’t that he just smart a President, he was an exceptionally smart person. At the age of 16, Jefferson enrolled in President Washington’s alma mater, the College of William and Mary, where he studied mathematics, metaphysics and philosophy. Jefferson graduated after only two years, with highest honors – and proceeded to earn admission into the Virginia State Bar some five years later.
Seven score and eight years ago, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, proclaiming a birth of freedom and equality in the nation. Through his conquests on a less beaten road, Lincoln personified the American Dream—in total, Honest Abe received approximately 18 months of formal education, most of which was provided by unqualified instructors. Lincoln was mainly self-educated and a self-guided reader, spending countless hours digesting every newspaper and book that came his way.
Three prominent individuals reached presidency from military-educated backgrounds. Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower claimed their stakes at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. And even though President Eisenhower’s parents rejected militarism, they couldn’t say no to a free education. Before Jimmy Carter’s stint as a successful peanut farmer and one-term president, he bested hundreds of other midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating 59th in his class of 820.
Not only did Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt share the same last name, they were fifth cousins and Harvard College alumnus as well. Teddy was an ambitious reader with a photographic memory, earning Phi Beta Kappa honors and admission into Columbia Law School—he dropped out of law school after only one year to pursue a career in politics. Better known as FDR, the younger Roosevelt followed Teddy’s footsteps. FDR was also admitted into Columbia Law School, but dropped out after passing the New York State Bar.
Some of our more recent presidents are no slouches either. Bill Clinton earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, received a Rhodes Scholarship to study government at Oxford, and acquired a J.D. from Yale Law School. Contrary to the opinion of many folks on the left, George W. Bush is no dummy. George W. is a Yale alumn, and he is currently the only president with an M.B.A.—from Harvard Business School, no less. Our prevailing chief executive, President Barack Obama, graduated from Columbia College with a degree in political science. He is also the second president to have earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School.
As evidenced by the contrasting degrees of education among our presidents, no standard institution or instruction is needed to ascend to the highest office in the land. Although many of our previous leaders earned degrees from highly-ranked universities and colleges, many others emerged from humble, unassuming beginnings. Success is only limited by self-imposed restrictions. Pay homage to our presidential predecessors and celebrate your potential triumphs as well.