Through High School

Mem­o­ries of Barack Oba­ma

Birthers claim that no one from Oba­ma’s past has come for­ward say­ing they knew him. Where are the pic­tures? Where are the inter­views with his friends, his teach­ers? Why does no one remem­ber him grow­ing up? It’s as if he burst on the scene with no past.

Like every­thing else Birther, this meme is eas­i­ly debunked.

Hawaii: from Birth to Age 6

Indone­sia: from Age 6 to Age 10

Hawaii: Age 10 to High School Grad­u­a­tion

Next: Occi­den­tal Col­lege and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty

 Hawaii: from Birth to Age 6

   Barack Baby Barack and Mom Barack toddler

BIRTH: August 4, 1961 Kapi­olani Med­ical Cen­ter for Women & Chil­dren, Hon­olu­lu

Offi­cial Sources:

Birth Index 1960–1964, Hawaii State Depart­ment of Health

Birth Index 1 Birth Index 2   

Press Release from the Office of the Gov­er­nor, April 27, 2011

HONOLULU – The Hawai’i State Health Depart­ment recent­ly com­plied with a request byPres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma for cer­ti­fied copies of his orig­i­nal Cer­tifi­cate of Live Birth, which is some­times referred to in the media as a “long form” birth certificate.“We hope that issu­ing cer­ti­fied copies of the orig­i­nal Cer­tifi­cate of Live Birth to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma will end the numer­ous inquiries relat­ed to his birth in Hawa’i,” Hawai’i Health Direc­tor Loret­ta Fud­dy said.  “I have seen the orig­i­nal records filed at the Depart­ment of Health and attest to the authen­tic­i­ty of the cer­ti­fied copies the depart­ment pro­vid­ed to the Pres­i­dent that fur­ther prove the fact that he was born in Hawai’i.”

In June 2008, Pres­i­dent Oba­ma released his Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of Live Birth, which is some­times referred to in the media as a “short form” birth cer­tifi­cate.  Both doc­u­ments are legal­ly suf­fi­cient evi­dence of birth in the State of Hawai„i, and both pro­vide the same fun­da­men­tal infor­ma­tion: Pres­i­dent Oba­ma was born in Hon­olu­lu, Hawai’i at 7:24 p.m. on August 4, 1961, to moth­er Stan­ley Ann Dun­ham and father Barack Hus­sein Oba­ma.

In 2001, the Hawai’i State Depart­ment of Health began com­put­er-gen­er­at­ing vital sta­tis­tics records.  Since then, its long­stand­ing pol­i­cy and prac­tice has been to issue and pro­vide only the com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed Cer­ti­fi­ca­tions of Live Birth, and to not pro­duce pho­to­copies of actu­al records to ful­fill requests for cer­ti­fied copies of certificates.Director Fud­dy made an excep­tion for Pres­i­dent Oba­ma by issu­ing copies of the orig­i­nal birth cer­tifi­cate.  The depart­men­tal pol­i­cy to issue only com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed Cer­ti­fi­ca­tions of Live Birth remains in effect for all birth records that have been com­put­er­ized.

Direc­tor Fud­dy, in her capac­i­ty as Health Direc­tor, has the legal author­i­ty to approve the process by which copies of birth records are made. “The excep­tion made in this case to pro­vide Pres­i­dent Oba­ma with a copy of his orig­i­nal Cer­tifi­cate of Live Birth was done accord­ing to the let­ter of the law,” Attor­ney Gen­er­al David Louie said. “Direc­tor Fud­dy exer­cised her legal author­i­ty in a com­plete­ly appro­pri­ate man­ner in this unique cir­cum­stance.  We will con­tin­ue to main­tain the strict con­fi­den­tial­i­ty require­ments afford­ed to vital sta­tis­tics records, such as birth cer­tifi­cates.  These require­ments help pro­tect the integri­ty of the records, and keep us all safe from crimes, such as iden­ti­ty theft.

 2007 Short Form Birth Cer­tifi­cate                              

 2011 Long Form Birth Cer­tifi­cate

Birth AnnouncementBirth Announce­ments:

For more on Barack Oba­ma’s birth cer­tifi­cates, see The Fog­bow’s report

Mon­i­ca Daniels­son, Moth­er of Stig Waidelich

A Swedish woman, Mon­i­ca Daniels­son, 78, may have pro­vid­ed the last piece in the puz­zle on where US pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma was born, when CNN recent­ly went to Hawaii final­ly lay the mat­ter to rest. “Oba­ma was lying there next to my Stig in the bassinet and I remem­ber him because he was the only black child there and I thought he was very cute,” she said to Swedish dai­ly Expressen… 

Mon­i­ca, who was born in Traneberg in Stock­holm, moved to Hawaii 50 years ago. Her mem­o­ries of an African-Amer­i­can baby at the mater­ni­ty ward fur­ther cor­rob­o­rate the sto­ry. “I have no absolute proof of course, but I saw Oba­ma and I have always thought it was Oba­ma,” she told Expressen.  

When Pres­i­dent Oba­ma became a can­di­date in 2008, Moni­ka noticed his birth date and hos­pi­tal in an arti­cle and remem­bered that day in the nurs­ery. Since then more mem­o­ries of Oba­ma grow­ing up has come back to Daniels­son. “The mem­o­ries come rush­ing back to me. Oba­ma was very into sport and my son was good at ten­nis, although Oba­ma was more into bas­ket­ball,” she said.

In order to see what hap­pens when some­one born in Hawaii requests a birth cer­tifi­cate, CNN asked a cur­rent res­i­dent of the state — Stig Waidelich — if he could get a copy of the doc­u­ment.

Waidelich was born just hours after Oba­ma in August 1961. Like Oba­ma, Waidelich’s birth was announced at the time in the Hon­olu­lu Star Bul­letin news­pa­per. Waidelich, like Oba­ma in 2008, was giv­en a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of live birth in response to his request. 

Moni­ka Daniel­son is Stig’s moth­er and she has vivid mem­o­ries from the hos­pi­tal after Stig was born. Moni­ka told CNN that she remem­bers vis­it­ing the nurs­ery after Stig’s birth and see­ing a lot of Asian babies, one white baby which was her son, and one black baby.

Because Moni­ka is from Swe­den, she told CNN that she had not seen many black chil­dren or babies before, which was why she par­tic­u­lar­ly remem­bers see­ing this black baby in the nurs­ery. When Pres­i­dent Oba­ma became a can­di­date in 2008, Moni­ka noticed his birth date and hos­pi­tal in an arti­cle and remem­bered that day in the nurs­ery. She believes that baby she spot­ted was indeed Pres­i­dent Oba­ma.

Bar­bara Nel­son of Ken­more, NY.

I may be the only per­son left who specif­i­cal­ly remem­bers his birth. His par­ents are gone, his grand­moth­er is gone, the obste­tri­cian who deliv­ered him is gone,” said Nel­son... Here’s the sto­ry: Nel­son was hav­ing din­ner at the Out­rig­ger Canoe Club on Waiki­ki Beach with Dr. [Rod­ney] West, the father of her col­lege friend, Jo-Anne. Mak­ing con­ver­sa­tion, Nel­son turned to Dr. West and said: ‘So, tell me some­thing inter­est­ing that hap­pened this week,’ she recalls.

His response: “Well, today, Stan­ley had a baby. Now that’s some­thing to write home about.” The new moth­er was Stan­ley (lat­er referred to by her mid­dle name of Ann) Dun­ham, and the baby was Barack Hus­sein Oba­ma. “I penned the name on a nap­kin, and I did write home about it,” said Nel­son, know­ing that her father, Stan­ley A. Czurles, direc­tor of the Art Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment at Buf­fa­lo State Col­lege, would be inter­est­ed in the “Stan­ley” con­nec­tion.

She also remem­bers Dr. West men­tion­ing that the baby’s father was the first black stu­dent at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii and how tak­en he was by the baby’s name.“I remem­ber Dr. West say­ing ‘Barack Hus­sein Oba­ma, now that’s a musi­cal name,’” said Nel­son…” [Note: Accord­ing to the Long Form Birth Cer­tifi­cate, the actu­al obste­tri­cian who deliv­ered Barack Oba­ma was David A. Sin­clair, M.D.]

Neil Aber­crom­bie, Fam­i­ly Friend

Neil Aber­crom­bie, then a grad­u­ate stu­dent in the soci­ol­o­gy depart­ment, fre­quent­ly would see young Oba­ma around town with his grand­fa­ther Stan­ley, whom Oba­ma called “Gramps.” “Stan­ley loved that lit­tle boy,” said Aber­crom­bie, now a Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­gress­man from Hawaii. “In the absence of his father, there was not a kinder, more under­stand­ing man than Stan­ley Dun­ham. He was lov­ing and gen­er­ous.”

As for Oba­ma’s roots in Hawaii, Aber­crom­bie told Hawaii News Now he first laid eyes on baby Barack Oba­ma a few days after he was born. Aber­crom­bie said Oba­ma’s par­ents intro­duced their new­born to friends at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii where Aber­crom­bie was going to col­lege with the pres­i­den­t’s father.

We not only saw him and were with them, but were intro­duced to him of course at our gath­er­ings, our stu­dent gath­er­ings. And of course over the years then as he was raised by his moth­er and his grand­par­ents we of course saw him fre­quent­ly because he was with his grand­fa­ther all the time,” Aber­crom­bie added.

Video: Hawaii News NowInter­view with Neil Aber­crom­bie  

Captain Barack Barack Sailboat Barack Pirate Barack Grandpa

 Barack Bike Beach baby Baseball

Noe­lani Ele­men­tary School, Hon­olu­lu, Hawaii 

Aimee Yat­sushi­ro, Teacher: Kinder­garten 

Aimee Yat­sushi­ro, a retired teacher from Kahu­lui, served as a stu­dent teacher from Sep­tem­ber to Decem­ber 1966 at Noe­lani Ele­men­tary School on Oahu. Her super­vis­ing teacher was Kazuko Sakai, the pri­ma­ry edu­ca­tor for about 25 stu­dents in a kinder­garten class that includ­ed a boy named Barack “Bar­ry” Oba­ma.  “He was a cute, lik­able, heavy build-child,” Yat­sushi­ro recalled. “I could visu­al­ize Bar­ry smil­ing, dressed in his long-sleeved, white shirt tucked into his brown Bermu­da shorts, and wear­ing laced shoes.”

He was a good lis­ten­er from the time he was lit­tle,” Yat­sushi­ro said. “I remem­ber him always smil­ing and observ­ing, just watch­ing all the time, smil­ing and observ­ing. He did­n’t have to be the cen­ter of atten­tion.”

Kather­ine Nakamo­to, Teacher: Kinder­garten

Kather­ine Nakamo­to, also a retired teacher now liv­ing in Wailuku, coin­ci­den­tal­ly was assigned to the same kinder­garten class, only this time from Jan­u­ary to June of 1967. Nakamo­to said she nev­er used a nick­name for the stu­dent. “We called him Barack.… He was very well man­nered, respect­ful, con­fi­dent and inde­pen­dent.” 

He (Oba­ma) was always nice­ly dressed,” Nakamo­to said as she looked at the old pho­to­graph recent­ly. “He was­n’t out­stand­ing in any way like being naughty or any­thing. I just remem­ber him being con­fi­dent, like the way a pres­i­dent should be.”

Kindergarten teachers   Obama Kindergarten

Rev. Mike Young, Pas­tor of the First Uni­tar­i­an Church of Hon­olu­lu

When Oba­ma was in ele­men­tary school in Hon­olu­lu, Young recount­ed in a tele­phone phone inter­view, either his grand­moth­er or grand­fa­ther (there’s con­fu­sion over which one) brought him to Sun­day school there for sev­er­al years. 

When Young remind­ed Oba­ma at the memo­r­i­al ser­vice, “his eyes lit up, and he turned to Michelle and said, ‘Hey, that’s right. This is where I went to Sun­day school.’ ”

Young refers to Oba­ma as Bar­ry. “That’s who he was here. No one here called him Barack.” At the memo­r­i­al ser­vice, the 70-year-old min­is­ter saw Oba­ma as “a tall skin­ny kid.”

   Obama in chair     Obama missing teeth     Obama School Pic   3rd Grade

OFFICIAL SOURCESGov­ern­ment Offi­cials

US Cit­i­zen and Immi­gra­tion Ser­vices: FOIA Request Con­cern­ing Lolo Soe­toro’s Immi­gra­tion file, page 46

Mem­o­ran­dum to fileMemo

A 14 128 294

Sept. 14, 1967

Pur­suant to gen­er­al inquiry from Cen­tral office regard­ing the sta­tus of the appli­cants’ spous­es’ child by a for­mer mar­riage.

The per­son in ques­tion is a unit­ed states cit­i­zen by virtue of his birth in Hon­olu­lu, Hawaii on Aug. 4, 1961. He is liv­ing with the appli­cants’ spouse in Hon­olu­lu, Hawaii. He [redact­ed with xxxx’s] is con­sid­ered the appli­cants stepchild, with­in the mean­ing of Sec. 101(b)(1)(B), of the act, by virtue of the mar­riage of the appli­cant to childs’ moth­er on March 15, 1965.

 Indone­sia: Ages 6 to 10


Inside Edi­tion: Barack Oba­ma School Life in Indone­sia

 Barack Oba­ma’s school days

Indonesia: Obama’s Childhood Friends And Teachers Share Memories

Barack Obama’s Indonesian childhood

Obama to visit childhood sites in Jakarta 


Obama 6  Party age 6  Obama indonesia neighbors

Yunal­di and Har­mon Ask­iar, Neigh­bor­hood Friends

[Yunaldi’s] hang­ing out with his broth­ers, just like he did when he was a kid. They all remem­ber Oba­ma. Soon I’m sit­ting on the floor with them, lis­ten­ing to sto­ries of child­hood adven­tures.… The neigh­bor­hood kids played soc­cer and staged sword­fights with bam­boo in the mid­dle of the street. They also staged fist­fights, pit­ting boys of sim­i­lar size against each oth­er. John­ny Ask­iar’s voice is still filled with won­der as he recalls the feel­ing of hit­ting Oba­ma’s skull.

Bar­ry’s head was real­ly hard,” he says.  “My hand would hurt when I hit it. It was like iron, that head.” A use­ful qual­i­ty in a pres­i­dent, per­haps?

The Ask­iars speak about Oba­ma with what feels like gen­uine fond­ness, but as kids they weren’t above tak­ing advan­tage of his sta­tus as an out­sider. “Some­times we’d say, ‘Bar­ry, do you want a choco­late?’ And we’d give him a choco­late. The next day we’d give him a choco­late again. The third time we’d give him terasi (fer­ment­ed shrimp paste) wrapped up like choco­late,” remem­bers Har­mon Ask­iar. Oba­ma did­n’t get mad, they say. He would laugh it off.

The oth­er kids would scrap with him some­times, but because Oba­ma was big­ger and bet­ter-fed than many of them, he was hard to defeat. “He was built like a bull. So we’d get three kids togeth­er to fight him,” recalled Yunal­di Ask­iar, 45, a for­mer neigh­bor­hood friend. “But it was only play­ing.”

Oba­ma spent most his spare time hang­ing out with [Zulfin] Adi and oth­er friends at the home of Yunal­di Ask­iar, a class­mate. They used to play a kind of fenc­ing game using sticks, kick a ball up and down the nar­row dirt lanes or go swim­ming in the riv­er behind the school, said Ask­iar, 42, a car mechan­ic.

Zul­fan Adi, Neigh­bor­hood Friend

He was the only for­eign child in the neigh­bor­hood. He also was one of the only neigh­bor­hood chil­dren whose par­ents enrolled him in a new Catholic school in an area pop­u­lat­ed almost entire­ly by Betaw­is, the old trib­al landown­ing Jakar­ta natives who were very tra­di­tion­al Mus­lims. 

Zul­fan Adi was one of the neigh­bor­hood kids who teased Oba­ma most mer­ci­less­ly. He remem­bers one day when young Oba­ma, a hope­less­ly upbeat boy who seemed obliv­i­ous to the fact that the old­er kids did­n’t want him tag­ging along, fol­lowed a group of Adi’s friends to a near­by swamp. “They held his hands and feet and said, ‘One, two, three,’ and threw him in the swamp,” recalled Adi, who still lives in the same house where he grew up. “Luck­i­ly he could swim. They only did it to Bar­ry.” 

We played mar­bles out on a dirt field. We could nev­er cheat him. We did try but he always found out,” says Zul­fan Adi, 47, a free­lance tourist guide who still lives down the street from Oba­ma’s old house in a low­er-mid­dle class neigh­bor­hood in South Jakar­ta. “He used to say, ‘Kamu curang, kamu curang!”’ (“You cheat, you cheat!”) Oba­ma “is res­olute, that’s the best way to describe him,” Adi says. “He nev­er hes­i­tat­ed to stand up to defend his rights.”

Dara Made­wa, Neigh­bor­hood Friend

Anoth­er for­mer neigh­bor, Dara Made­wa remem­bered Oba­ma as an active boy with the nick­name ‘Lit­tle Berry’, who often played with chil­dren in the niehg­bor­hood.

He liked to stay in my house after school. He even had lunch in my house. Most of the time he stayed until the after­noon. We did not know what was the Eng­lish word for ‘go home’ and I need­ed to ask my father for that. He only left when we told him “Berry go home.

Mom and G-man

Oth­er Neigh­bor­hood Peo­ple

He was very dis­ci­plined because some­how at 5:30 p.m. he went home to study,” says Adi’s 86-year-old moth­er, Aisyah Zainal-Abidin. “It was unusu­al.”

It was a very poor area when the fam­i­ly came here,” said Coen­raad Sat­jakoe­soemah, 79, a retired air­line man­ag­er and a neigh­bor­hood leader. “There were still dirt roads, only a few hous­es and lots of large trees.”

In Mr. Satjakoesoemah’s liv­ing room, Mr. Obama’s moth­er taught Eng­lish to the neigh­bor­hood women, includ­ing his wife, Dju­miati. While the res­i­dents regard­ed Mr. Obama’s moth­er as a “free spir­it,” Bar­ry, who was chub­by, was referred to as the “boy who runs like a duck,” said Mrs. Sat­jakoe­soemah, 69.

Mr. Oba­ma, the cou­ple said, attend­ed school with chil­dren who could not afford to buy shoes.

Inside the old art deco house sits Oba­ma’s for­mer land­lord, Abu Bakar, a chain-smok­ing 78-year-old who saw no sign of the sparkling future for the nine-year-old he once taught table ten­nis. “I treat­ed Oba­ma as the son of the man who rent­ed this house,” Bakar told the Her­ald. “To me, he was just an ordi­nary boy. I did not give him much atten­tion, of course, because I did not imag­ine he would become an impor­tant per­son.”

His only abid­ing mem­o­ry is of the morn­ing Jen­n­go, Oba­ma’s pet poo­dle, escaped and failed to return, leav­ing Oba­ma in tears.

Near one of his homes here, the same fam­i­ly still runs a wood­en stall sell­ing gado-gado, an Indone­sian sal­ad cov­ered in peanut sauce. Agus Salam, who took over the busi­ness from his moth­er years ago, played soc­cer with the Amer­i­can boy every­body here called Bar­ry. “His house — all the hous­es around here — haven’t changed,” said Mr. Salam, 56.

…Mr. Oba­ma often played with the two sons of [a] physician’s dri­ver. One time, recalled the elder son, Slamet Jan­u­a­di, now 52, Mr. Oba­ma asked a group of boys whether they want­ed to grow up to be pres­i­dent, a sol­dier or a busi­ness­man. A pres­i­dent would own noth­ing while a sol­dier would pos­sess weapons and a busi­ness­men would have mon­ey, the young Oba­ma explained.

Mr. Jan­u­a­di and his younger broth­er, both of whom lat­er joined the Indone­sian mil­i­tary, said they want­ed to become sol­diers. Anoth­er boy, a future banker, said he would become a busi­ness­man.

Then Bar­ry said he would become pres­i­dent and order the sol­dier to guard him and the busi­ness­man to use his mon­ey to build him some­thing,” Mr. Jan­u­a­di said. “We told him, ‘You cheat­ed. You didn’t give us those details.’ ”

But we all became what we said we would,” he said.

Paschet­ta Sarmi­di, Fam­i­ly Friend

Neigh­bor­hood res­i­dents and fam­i­ly acquain­tances describe Oba­ma’s step­fa­ther, who went to work at a West­ern oil com­pa­ny after serv­ing time in the Army, as qui­et and kind.

He was very good to Ann, just a nice man,” says Paschet­ta Sarmi­di, 67, who worked in Jakar­ta with Oba­ma’s moth­er at theFord Foun­da­tion.

Sarmi­di denounces efforts by some in the U.S. to try to smear Oba­ma by empha­siz­ing his step­fa­ther’s Mus­lim faith. “He was a com­mon Mus­lim,” she said. “Noth­ing rad­i­cal.”



Fran­siskus Assisi School in Jakar­ta

Israel­la Dar­mawan, Teacher: First Grade Barack Indonesia Fransiskus Assisi

Israel­la Dar­mawan is every inch a teacher, from her shiny cap of black hair to her sen­si­ble shoes. In an office at the Fran­siskus Assisi School, she shows me an old reg­is­ter with an entry for Bar­ry Soe­toro, as Barack Oba­ma was know then. Bu Is taught Oba­ma in the first grade. She admits she does­n’t remem­ber all her stu­dents well, but Bar­ry … well, he stood out. “He real­ly was dif­fer­ent from the oth­ers. He was tall and heavy, black skin, curly hair.”

Oba­ma strug­gled with Indone­sian, she says, but he was clear­ly a bright kid, espe­cial­ly at math. He had nat­ur­al lead­er­ship qual­i­ties, she adds; oth­er kids fol­lowed him around dur­ing play­time. “Barack ran some­where, they went. He ran some­where else, they fol­lowed.”

[She] said she attempt­ed to help him learn the Indone­sian lan­guage by going over pro­nun­ci­a­tion and vow­el sounds. He strug­gled great­ly with the for­eign lan­guage, she said, and with his stud­ies as a result.indonesia larger

The teacher, who still lives in Oba­ma’s old neigh­bor­hood, remem­bers that he always sat in the back cor­ner of her class­room. “His friends called him ‘Negro,’ ” Dar­mawan said. The term was­n’t con­sid­ered a slur at the time in Indone­sia.

Still, all of his teach­ers at the Catholic school rec­og­nized lead­er­ship qual­i­ties in him. “He would be very help­ful with friends. He’d pick them up if they fell down,” Dar­mawan recalled. “He would pro­tect the small­er ones.”

In 1968, Oba­ma began first grade at St. Fran­cis Assisi Foun­da­tion School, just around the cor­ner from his home. The Catholic ele­men­tary school had only opened the pre­vi­ous year and want­ed to enroll as many stu­dents as pos­si­ble, so it wel­comed chil­dren of any reli­gion, said Israel­la Dhar­mawan, 63, his first-grade teacher.

At that time, Bar­ry was also pray­ing in a Catholic way, but Bar­ry was Mus­lim,” Dhar­mawan said in Oba­ma’s old class­room, where she still teach­es 39 years lat­er. “He was reg­is­tered as a Mus­lim because his father, Lolo Soe­toro, was Mus­lim.” Like all pupils, Oba­ma had to pray before and after each class, and cross him­self in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spir­it, Dhar­mawan said.

Oba­ma was taller and bet­ter dressed than most kids in class­es where shoes and socks were still lux­u­ries, so he stood out from the start. As an African Amer­i­can, and the only for­eign­er, he suf­fered racial taunts and teas­ing but nev­er turned to vio­lence. “At first, every­body felt it was weird to have him here,” Dhar­mawan said. “But also they were curi­ous about him, so wher­ev­er he went, the kids were fol­low­ing him.” Instead of using his fists, Oba­ma gained respect — and friends — by using his impos­ing stature to pro­tect weak­er chil­dren against the strong, Dhar­mawan said.

Israel­la Pareira, Mr. Oba­ma’s teacher in the 1st grade at Assisi, said she remem­bered him for good pen­man­ship as a lefty and an unusu­al way he com­mu­ni­cat­ed with­out yet speak­ing Indone­sian.

He was­n’t able to speak Indone­sian lan­guage when he first entered this school, so he used sign lan­guage in com­mu­ni­cat­ing with his friends. While with the teacher, when­ev­er he was fac­ing any mat­ter in the sub­ject that he did­n’t under­stand, he would always look at me, which meant he was ask­ing me to help him, so I would explain it to him again in Eng­lish,” she said.

Menteng One School (Seko­lah Dasar Negeri Besu­ki) in Jakar­ta

 Barack Indonesia 2 Barack Indonesia 3 

Fer­mi­na Kata­ri­na Sina­ga, Teacher: Sec­ond Grade

Fer­mi­na Kata­ri­na Sina­ga, now 67, has per­haps the most telling sto­ry. In an essay about what he want­ed to be when he grew up, Oba­ma “wrote he want­ed to be pres­i­dent,” Sina­ga recalled. “He did­n’t say what coun­try he want­ed to be pres­i­dent of. But he want­ed to make every­body hap­py.”

Oba­ma’s Indone­sian teach­ers all said he was a leader at a young age. Fer­mi­na Kata­ri­na Sina­ga, Oba­ma’s third-grade teacher, did­n’t have to qui­et her pupils before class because Oba­ma did it for her.

When the kids lined up before enter­ing the class, he would step for­ward and lead the whole class,” said Sina­ga… “He inspect­ed the line, and he was act­ing like a teacher. I could see his sense of lead­er­ship back then.”

Some of the Betawi chil­dren threw rocks at the open Catholic class­rooms, remem­bered Cecil­ia Sug­i­ni Hanan­to, who taught Oba­ma in 2nd grade.  

Pak Effendy, Teacher: Third GradeThird Grade

The US Pres­i­den­t’s for­mer grade three teacher said that Mr Oba­ma — who was known as “Bar­ry” when he attend­ed the Menteng One school in Jakar­ta — stud­ied the Koran and went to class­es on Islam, despite the objec­tions of Ann Dun­ham, a Catholic. The teacher, Effen­di, who taught at Menteng One for 29 years, remem­bers Mr Oba­ma as a “fat, curly-haired, curi­ous boy”. The school had an inter­na­tion­al mix of pupils, includ­ing Chris­tians, Hin­dus, Bud­dhists and Mus­lims.

Mr Oba­ma attend­ed class­es on Islam while the Chris­tians attend­ed class­es on Chris­tian­i­ty, said Effen­di. Bar­ry, he said, was alone among the pupils in that he insist­ed on attend­ing both. “His moth­er did not like him learn­ing Islam, although his father was a Mus­lim. Some­times she came to the school; she was angry with the reli­gious teacher and said ‘Why did you teach him the Koran?’ ” said Effen­di. “But he kept going to the class­es because he was inter­est­ed in Islam. He would also join the oth­er pupils for Mus­lim prayers.”

It is still fresh in my mem­o­ries that Bar­ry’s phys­i­cal appear­ance was big­ger than oth­ers, he was fat and his skin was a bit dark­er. His hair was curly,” he said. Both class­mates and for­mer teach­ers recalled the young Bar­ry as some­one who was easy going and good at mak­ing friends.

His atti­tude towards his friends was good both to the boys and the girls, but he was a bit mis­chie­vous, espe­cial­ly to the girls” he said. “He liked to, you know in the past there was a stu­dent who had a long hair, he often pulled her hair… that was prob­a­bly to get atten­tion from his friends.”

Effen­di remem­bers Mr. Oba­ma as good stu­dent who liked his­to­ry and geog­ra­phy, as well as being involved in school activ­i­ties. “He also liked to join an extracur­ric­u­lar activ­i­ty called PRAMUKA (boy scout) that was held on every Sat­ur­day after­noon.” [In the class pic­ture, Bar­ry is wear­ing a Pra­mu­ka beret.]

Rul­ly Dasaad, Class­mate

When the teacher intro­duced ‘Bar­ry Soe­toro’ [Oba­ma went by his step­fa­ther’s name at the time] to the class, he was very exot­ic. He was the only non-Indone­sian; he was taller than all of us and chub­by. He was accom­pa­nied by his white mum and his Indone­sian step­fa­ther, who was wear­ing a mil­i­tary out­fit, and I remem­ber think­ing, that’s strange, he looks half black, half white — maybe this is what a boy from Hawaii looks like. He wore Bermu­da pants that extend­ed below the knee, where­as our short pants were halfway down our thigh, and he wore T‑shirts with stripes where­as ours were plain. He was the only left-hand­ed stu­dent in class — it’s not con­sid­ered polite in Indone­sia to be left-hand­ed — so it was always amaz­ing to see him writ­ing with his left hand.

Bar­ry was the only one in the class who had bread in his lunch box — the rest of us had tra­di­tion­al Indone­sian snacks. There’s one called kepan — sticky rice and des­ic­cat­ed coconut which you have to dip in this very strong chilli sauce. It’s hot even for us. But Bar­ry was very curi­ous. He tried it and burnt his mouth, and he was say­ing: ‘It’s hot, it’s hot.’ You can see he was always open to learn­ing some­thing new.

He and his mum had been liv­ing in Indone­sia since 1967. She worked for USAID, help­ing Indone­sian women in the coun­try­side to live in a more West­ern fash­ion. For the first two months, Bar­ry was still adjust­ing. We had a singing class once a week and he would­n’t sing, prob­a­bly because he was shy and wor­ried that he might sing a word wrong. But after three months, he spoke Indone­sian. He became one of us.

I remem­ber one time he had a birth­day and I went to his house with some class­mates. Bar­ry’s house was down a mud track; to play foot­ball there, you had to put plas­tic bags on your feet. Near his house was a small canal — at that time it was­n’t pol­lut­ed — and they had small sala­man­ders in it. Bar­ry had chick­ens in his home field. It was total­ly nor­mal for Jakar­ta in those days.

Me, Bar­ry and Yan­to used to play togeth­er every lunch break for two years and he was very loy­al to our gang. If I said: ‘Don’t play with that boy, play with us’, he’d do it. We’d try to fin­ish our lunch as fast as we could and then we’d go to the fields and play: run­ning, hide and seek, mar­bles and tak gebok, an Indone­sian game of tag where you try to hit your fel­low boys with a ball. One time, there was a naughty young boy who missed Bar­ry with the ball so he took a small stone from the play­ing field and threw it and hit Bar­ry’s head, which start­ed bleed­ing. I remem­ber Bar­ry just went qui­et — his mum had taught him not to fight. He was one of those kids you could tell was brought up with a lot of love and affec­tion and so he was nev­er angry or nasty.

We loved play­ing so much we were always in on the third bell. Most of the girls had a prob­lem with our gang because we were always very active and sweat­ing, and some­times we’d miss-throw and hit a girl. ‘Oh, here they are again,’ they’d say. ‘Oh, you’re sweat­ing from the sun, you stink, go away.’ So I had to teach Bar­ry Indone­sian swear words to say back to the girls.

At the time, my father and Pres­i­dent Sukarno were the only peo­ple in the coun­try with Cadil­lacs, and both were presents from my grand­pa, who was the rich­est man in Indone­sia. Grand­pa bought me all the DC Com­ic books, and I was the only one who had them, so Bar­ry and Yan­to would bor­row the books and copy pic­tures of Bat­man and Spi­der-Man out and ask me to judge which was bet­ter. Bar­ry was always bet­ter than Yan­to. Even Yan­to always agreed with that. Bar­ry had a great eye.

We came back from the sum­mer vaca­tion for fifth grade and Bar­ry was­n’t there. The teacher said he’d gone back to Hawaii. Our small gang was split up.

Some­body said in 2006: ‘Look at Time mag­a­zine — your old friend is run­ning for Pres­i­dent.’ I did­n’t recog­nise him. He was much slim­mer. Then I saw a pic­ture where he was laugh­ing and I recog­nised him from the smile and the teeth.

Lat­er on there were alle­ga­tions that the school was a madras­sa, and for­eign jour­nal­ists began hang­ing around. But the small mosque at the school today was added on in 2001. There was no mosque at the time and it was­n’t even a par­tic­u­lar­ly reli­gious school.

It’s very sad if a great nation like Amer­i­ca wants to per­se­cute Oba­ma just because he was born from a Mus­lim dad and had a Mus­lim step­fa­ther. I’m sure one of the rea­sons for the flex­i­bil­i­ty he has today is his expe­ri­ences in Indone­sia. At the school, there were half-Chi­nese and half-Dutch Indone­sians, Javanese peo­ple, Ambonese, and there were Bud­dhists, Hin­dus, Mus­lims, Chris­tians and Catholics. Bar­ry is used to a mix.

Rul­ly, who said that Oba­ma was affec­tion­ate toward his friends, con­tin­ued to rem­i­nisce about the good old days. “I remem­ber that he was very straight­for­ward. He didn’t like it if any­one cheat­ed, whether play­ing mar­bles or petak gebok [Indone­sian-style base­ball]. 

Bar­ry was usu­al­ly of a hap­py dis­po­si­tion, although some­times chil­dren teased him and called him kup­ing pangsit [hav­ing ears shaped like fried dumplings]. He just laughed. I still remem­ber he had an oval alu­minum lunch box with him at school every day. Some­times, he was brought to school on the back of a motor­cy­cle if his moth­er had not yet gone off to work at the Indone­sia-Amer­i­ca Friend­ship Asso­ci­a­tion [LIA].” 

Bar­ry was very hum­ble and some­times just did what we asked him to do, such as eat­ing Betawi gluti­nous rice or teas­ing the girls. We missed Bar­ry when he had to leave in August 1971. Ask Ibu Karim [one of Obama’s teach­ers] or Pak Effendy [the class teacher] for their com­ments. They are wit­ness­es who are still alive today.” 

Widiyan­to Hen­dro Cahy­ono, Class­mate

Widiyan­to [Hen­dro Cahy­ono], who was Obama’s seat­mate in third grade — back when stu­dents had to share a seat and desk built for two — said he was sur­prised when the US ambas­sador to Indone­sia, Cameron Hume, invit­ed him and Rul­ly to his Sura­p­ati res­i­dence a day before Obama’s inau­gu­ra­tion in Jan­u­ary 2009 for a tra­di­tion­al sla­matan, a cer­e­mo­ny for spe­cial occa­sions. 

Rul­ly was in Bali at the time so he couldn’t come to the res­i­dence, but a friend rep­re­sent­ed him,” Widiyan­to said. “In return, we, as Obama’s for­mer class­mates, invit­ed the ambas­sador to SDN Besu­ki. Look at this pho­to. These are Obama’s class­mates.” 

Both Rul­ly and Widiyan­to recall that it was the more active and sporty kids at SDN Besu­ki who most­ly played with Oba­ma, though he was easy­go­ing and friend­ly with every­one.  “From the first time that Bar­ry was intro­duced, we won­dered who he was — a chub­by and taller-than-aver­age kid with curly hair,” Rul­ly said. “He was escort­ed by his father, who was in mil­i­tary uni­form. Barry’s step­fa­ther stud­ied topog­ra­phy in Hawaii. Bar­ry seemed like a very inter­est­ing kid and was all smiles.” 

Widiyan­to, who now runs his own express couri­er ser­vice com­pa­ny, said that Oba­ma also joined the sia­ga , the Indone­sian ver­sion of the US Cub Scouts. “Not very many peo­ple know this. Look at this pho­to, there’s Bar­ry and me. Pres­i­dent Oba­ma has this pho­to too,” Widiyan­to said, show­ing a nev­er-before pub­lished pho­to of Oba­ma as a boy wear­ing the dis­tinc­tive sia­ga cap. 

Widiyan­to said that even back then, Oba­ma was already extreme­ly smart. He remem­bers that Oba­ma was left-hand­ed and good at draw­ing. “I remem­ber he sketched the char­ac­ters in the Mar­vel and DC comics that Rul­ly brought to school. Rully’s grand­fa­ther was one of Indonesia’s rich­est men at the time so he had access to import­ed comics,” Widiyan­to said. 

Oba­ma nev­er became ter­ri­bly close with the chil­dren of the new school — this time a pre­dom­i­nant­ly Mus­lim one–where he was enrolled. As he had at the old school, Oba­ma sat in a back cor­ner. He sketched decid­ed­ly Amer­i­can car­toon char­ac­ters dur­ing class. “He liked draw­ing Spi­der-Man and Bat­man,” said anoth­er friend, Widiyan­to Hen­dro Cahy­ono

He was an aver­age stu­dent, but very active,” said Wid­ianto Hen­dro Cahy­ono… who was in the same 3rd grade class as Oba­ma at SDN Menteng ele­men­tary school in Jakar­ta. “He would play ball dur­ing recess until he was drip­ping with sweat. I nev­er imag­ined he would become a great man.”

Ban­dung Winardi­jan­to, Class­mate

For­mer stu­dent and [for­mer prin­ci­pal] Ibu Karim’s grand­son, Ban­dung Winardi­jan­to, remem­bers Oba­ma as a “hyper­ac­tive junior who was dar­ing, imp­ish and could not stand still.” “We called him curly eye­lash­es because he had long and curly eye­lash­es. He had a dark skin tone and his hair was curly but real­ly soft.”

Ban­dung said when Oba­ma was made a sen­a­tor last year he made the con­nec­tion. “We knew him not by the name of Barack Oba­ma but as Bar­ry Soe­toro.” He said Bar­ry had joined the Scouts and was known through­out the school. “He stood out among the oth­er chil­dren. We use to tie him to the flag­pole because he could­n’t stand still. He would be angry for a while, but not long after we’d untie him and he would laugh and run around as usu­al,” he said.

Ban­dung said Bar­ry had once bro­ken the school fence. “It was still made of wood not of con­crete like today. He was run­ning around and knocked down the fence. He got up and smiled and not long after start­ed to run around again.” 

He said the next day Bar­ry’s step­fa­ther turned up at the school with work­men. “He watched the work­men fix the fence and we called him lit­tle con­troller.”

Ban­dung said Bar­ry’s par­ents often came to the school. “He used to take food from the ven­dors with­out pay­ing. But, at the end of the week, his par­ents would come and pay for it.” 

Ban­dung said he had heard the rumor that Oba­ma went to a rad­i­cal Islam­ic school. He showed a pic­ture of Oba­ma with the Scout group. “The girls wore miniskirts. There’s no way miniskirts would be allowed at a madras­sa,” he said. Anoth­er pho­to of teach­ers at the school shows both males and females wear­ing West­ern-style cloth­ing. The women are also wear­ing miniskirts. Ban­dung said there was noth­ing to wor­ry about in any case as Indone­sian madras­sa had been not­ed for teach­ing a mod­er­ate form of Islam. “I think the Amer­i­cans are being a bit para­noid this time.”

Ati Kis­jan­to, Class­mate

Bar­ry liked to draw heroes.” Then, one day about a year after he had arrived, Oba­ma was gone. “Sud­den­ly we asked, ‘Where’s Bar­ry?’ ” remem­bered Ati Kis­jan­to, 45. “And we were told he had already moved away.”


Hawaii: Age 10 to High School Grad­u­a­tion

Stanleys, Barry, Maya

Daw­na Weath­er­ly-Williams, Fam­i­ly Friend

Daw­na Weath­er­ly-Williams, then 22 now 60, from Cal­i­for­nia, had recent­ly moved to Hawaii with her black hus­band. She had struck up a friend­ship with [Frank Mar­shall] Davis – whom she refers to as ‘Dad­dy’ – and was chat­ting with him that late autumn after­noon as Dun­ham and Bar­ry approached.

Sit­ting on a wood­en bench in Honolulu’s Maki­ki Dis­trict Park this sum­mer, Weath­er­ly-Williams chain-smoked as she recalled Davis meet­ing Oba­ma for the first time that day in 1970. ‘Dad­dy had his feet propped up and he saw them and called out, “Hey, Stan! Oh, is this him?”

Stan had been promis­ing to bring Bar­ry by because we all had that in com­mon – Frank’s kids were half-white, Stan’s grand­son was half-black and my son was half-black,’ she said.

Dun­ham and his grand­son were on their way home from Puna­hou, the pri­vate school that Oba­ma was to describe in his 1995 mem­oir Dreams from My Father as an ‘incu­ba­tor for island elites’. He had just tak­en entrance tests in Eng­lish and math­e­mat­ics.

Bar­ry was well-dressed, in a blaz­er I think,’ Weath­er­ly-Williams said. ‘He was tired and he was hun­gry. He had a full face – it wasn’t point­ed like it is now. We were all grin­ning like idiots, me and Frank and Stan, because we were think­ing that we know this secret about life and we were going to share it with Bar­ry. He hadn’t seen any­one that looked like him before.’


Puna­hou School, an inde­pen­dent col­lege prepara­to­ry day school



Punahou SchoolBarack Oba­ma ’79
Obama High School

1971 (5th grade) to 1979 (12th grade)

Co-cur­ric­u­lar Activ­i­ties

  • 1975 Inter­me­di­ate Foot­ball – 8th grade
  • 1976 Boys’ Cho­rus One – 9th grade
  • 1977 Con­cert Choir – 10th grade
  • 1977 Junior Var­si­ty Bas­ket­ball – 10th grade
  • 1978 Var­si­ty A Bas­ket­ball
  • 1979 Var­si­ty A Bas­ket­ball (state cham­pi­ons)
  • 1979 Ka Wai Ola (Punahou’s high school lit­er­ary jour­nal)

Puna­haou Bul­letin Fall 1999 

A Life’s Call­ing to Pub­lic Ser­vice, by Barack Oba­ma ’79  

I real­ize how tru­ly lucky I was to have been raised here. Hawai­i’s spir­it of tol­er­ance might not have been per­fect, but it was — and is — real. The oppor­tu­ni­ty that Hawaii offered to expe­ri­ence a vari­ety of cul­tures in a cli­mate of mutu­al respect became an inte­gral part of my world view, and a basis for the val­ues I hold most dear.”

Puna­haou Bul­letin Spring 2005 (4 page arti­cle)

Oba­ma Encour­ages Stu­dents to ‘Dream Big

One thing that you might want to know about Unit­ed­States Sen­a­tor Barack Oba­ma is that he wasn’t always a great stu­dent. He remind­ed Puna­hou seniors dur­ing his vis­it to cam­pus on Decem­ber 17, 2004 that he is, in fact, an exam­ple of a young man who did not reach his full promise until after he left Puna­hou.

Cover 2007Not sur­pris­ing­ly, over 400 stu­dents, admin­is­tra­tors and fac­ul­ty packed Thurston Chapel to see and hear the charis­mat­ic Puna­hou alum­nus with the win­ning smile. More stu­dents lis­tened through the chapel doors and wait­ed for a chance to meet Oba­ma. Four­teen stu­dents rep­re­sent­ing grades 6–12, select­ed to pose ques­tions to the sen­a­tor, lined the front row pews dur­ing the infor­mal ses­sion.…

Puna­hou Bul­letin Spring 2007 (Long arti­cle)

A Kid Called Bar­ry
Barack Oba­ma ’79

By Car­lyn Tani ’69 

On a win­try Feb­ru­ary morn­ing, U.S. Sen­a­tor Barack Oba­ma ’79 stood before the Illi­nois Old State Capi­tol in Spring­field, site of Abra­ham Lincoln’s his­toric speech against slav­ery, to announce his can­di­da­cy for Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States. For many, Obama’s announce­ment high­light­ed a mete­oric rise to promi­nence that began in 2004 with his elec­tri­fy­ing keynote speech at the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion. For oth­ers, it sym­bol­ized the remark­able ascen­dance of a kid they called Bar­ry…

Puna­hou Bul­letin Win­ter 2008 (Long arti­cle)Cover 2009

We Were All There
Barack Oba­ma ’79 Makes His­to­ry on Elec­tion Night 2008

By Kehaulani Lum ’79, par­ent of Kanani D’An­ge­lo ’15

…Barack­’s Puna­hou bud­dies, Greg Orme and Bob­by Tit­comb, attired dash­ing­ly in busi­ness suits, entered the space from a spe­cial area behind the stage and sweet­ened the moment even more for me, with “catch-up” con­ver­sa­tion and inti­mate reflec­tions of their friend…

Puna­hou Bul­letin Spring 2009 (Cov­er plus arti­cles)

They’re Cheer­ing for Our Bar­ry

I had a lump in my throat; I had to exhale. And I was think­ing, … ‘They’re cheer­ing for our Bar­ry’ ”

Puna­hou Trav­el­ers, Strangers Alike Feel Pride for One-time Stu­dent


Ka Wai Ola — Puna­hou Lit­er­ary Mag­a­zine Literary mag crew

I saw an old, for­got­ten man
On an old, for­got­ten road.
Stag­ger­ing and numb under the glare of the
Spot­light. His eyes, so dull and grey,
Slide from right to left, to right,
Look­ing for his life, mis­placed in a
Shal­low, mud­dy gut­ter long ago.
I am found, instead.
Seek­ing a hid­ing place, the night seals us togeth­er.
A tran­sient spark lights his face, and in my hon­or,
He pulls out for­got­ten dig­ni­ty from under his flak­ing coat,
And walks a straight line along the crooked world.

From Vani­ty Fair, March 2008


Pal Eldredge, Teacher: 5th Grade Math and Sci­ence 

Bar­ry was a hap­py kid. He had a good sense of humor and was smil­ing all the time. He was a ras­cal too — he had a lit­tle spunk to him.”

5th Grade   Obama 1972

Mabel Hefty, Teacher: 5th Grade

Hefty’s daugh­ter, Car­olyn Whorff, a retired teacher who lives in Oakhurst, Calif., said she teared up to hear that Oba­ma con­sid­ered Mrs. Hefty his favorite teacher. Oba­ma’s name had come up as her moth­er was dying of can­cer, before he went into pol­i­tics, Whorff said. “I know he’s going to be some­body,’ ” Hefty told her daugh­ter. “You prob­a­bly will hear about him. If you do, look him up.”

Bar­bara Nel­son, Teacher 

Ten years after that mem­o­rable birth announce­ment, Nel­son would hear the Oba­ma name again. This time, the father, now a Kenyan gov­ern­ment offi­cial, was com­ing to speak at the Puna­hou School in Hon­olu­lu where Nel­son was teach­ing and where his 10-year-old son was a new­ly enrolled fifth-grad­er.  “Dr. Oba­ma had this love­ly, atten­tive man­ner,” she said. “When he answered the children’s ques­tions, he would do it as a sto­ry, which is the way they do it in Kenya. “His son, whom he hadn’t seen in eight years, seemed as fas­ci­nat­ed as we all were,” said Nel­son, who went on to be a high school prin­ci­pal, a harpist, a water­col­or artist and poet.

Christmas  Jr Sr

Bob Tor­rey, Teacher” U.S. His­to­ry

He was just a nor­mal boy,” said Bob Tor­rey, who taught Oba­ma U.S. his­to­ry and described him as a B stu­dent. “He was very pop­u­lar with his class­mates.”  

He was all boy… He was ras­cal­ly and had lots of piz­zazz — the kind of kid teach­ers love to have in their class­es. He paid atten­tion, but he was not what I would call an intel­lec­tu­al stu­dent.”

Pencil ChewersPal Eldridge, Teacher: Math

[His grand­par­ents] were always here with him and I remem­ber. I remem­ber Grand­pa being kind of a fun­ny guy,” said Pal Eldridge, Oba­ma’s for­mer math teacher. “I mean he was always … kind of a char­ac­ter, but you know, it was always good to be around him because he was always jok­ing with peo­ple too.” 

It’s like father­ly pride that I sit here and see that one of my stu­dents, you know, is run­ning for pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States,” he said. “That’s almost beyond belief that if some­thing like this hap­pens that, you know, I don’t know if I could take it.” Oba­ma’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills con­tin­ue to impress Eldridge. “I e‑mail him and he writes, he e‑mails me back,” he said. “In three days, I got an e‑mail in three days from Bar­ry and I’m think­ing, ‘Geez, how many pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates would write their, you know, for­mer teacher back?”

Eric Kusuno­ki, Teacher: Home­room

Every morn­ing, for four years, Barack Oba­ma sat in Eric Kusunok­i’s home­room class. “I said ‘is Bar­rack Oba­ma here’ and he smiled and said ‘oh just call me Bar­ry’ and it’s been Bar­ry ever since,” he said. “It’s almost unre­al to think that some­one who came to this school sat in these chairs and walked on this cam­pus is now on that stage,” he said.

He says in high school, the pres­i­dent-elect was always smil­ing and had a lot of charis­ma, traits he’ll take to the White House. “It goes to show you nev­er know, what a coun­try what a coun­try,” he said.

[Oba­ma’s] keynote speech at the 2004 Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion prompt­ed Eric Kusuno­ki, Oba­ma’s home­room teacher for four years, to pull out a dusty maroon scrap­book stored away since 1979. There among the clips and pho­tos he had col­lect­ed of all his stu­dents, Kusuno­ki found the teenage Oba­ma _ carv­ing pump­kins, vol­un­teer­ing for class activ­i­ties, cel­e­brat­ing birth­days, even writ­ing a nice good­bye note to his teacher.

I knew he would do well,” said Kusuno­ki, who has taught at Puna­hou for 33 years. “He was very gift­ed, and I knew he’d do great things. But this well? On this stage? I nev­er expect­ed that.”

I had a teacher who would say one of these days one of you may be pres­i­dent, when I start­ed teach­ing I used to tell my stu­dents that too and now look here you are, maybe.” 

He seemed to nego­ti­ate through school very well,” said Eric Kusuno­ki.

…Bar­ry had a con­fi­dent gait, a cheer­ful smile and a B aver­age. “He had the same exact man­ner­isms then as he does now,” said Eric Kusuno­ki, Mr. Obama’s home­room teacher at the Puna­hou School. “When he walked up to give that speech at the Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­ven­tion, we rec­og­nized him right away by the way he walked. He was well liked by every­body, a very charis­mat­ic guy.” 

Bar­bara Nel­son, Teacher: Lit­er­a­ture

As a high school teacher of British, Bib­li­cal and Mid­dle East­ern lit­er­a­ture, Nel­son taught Oba­ma. “He wasn’t usu­al­ly the first one to speak, but he was an atten­tive, active lis­ten­er,” she said. “While the oth­ers might be bounc­ing off the sur­face, he came straight from the cen­ter. He picked up on the pat­terns of ideas and then he’d make a state­ment that moved the class to the focal point. He also had a love­ly, engag­ing sense of humor,” Nel­son said. “He was firm, but he wasn’t aggres­sive or in your face.”

Dur­ing one class the ques­tion was posed “of what should we be most afraid,” draw­ing answers that includ­ed “death,” “hell,” “bio­log­i­cal war­fare,” “fear” and “iso­la­tion,” said Nel­son. “I recall Barack sit­ting in the back of the room,” Nel­son said, demon­strat­ing a hands-behind-his- head pose and describ­ing his lanky, out­stretched legs. “When he pulled him­self upright I thought ‘Bin­go. Here we go,’ ” she said, expect­ing the dis­cus­sion to move to a new lev­el.

And he said, ‘Words. Words are the pow­er to be feared most. Every indi­vid­ual has an unmon­i­tored arse­nal and whether they are direct­ed per­son­al­ly or inter­na­tion­al­ly, words can be weapons of destruc­tion.” 

  9th Grade 

Above: Ninth Grade


Dean Ando, Class­mate

From the time they met in fifth grade, Ando has watched Barack Oba­ma’s rise to promi­nence and he said he could­n’t be more proud to be a pledged nation­al del­e­gate and a part of Oba­ma’s his­toric cam­paign. “It’s just been an incred­i­ble expe­ri­ence,” Ando said.

Ando and Oba­ma are from the class of 1979 at Puna­hou School in Hawaii… He remem­bers an unas­sum­ing per­son­al­i­ty who had a strong pow­er of per­sua­sion, a love of books, jazz and bas­ket­ball — espe­cial­ly bas­ket­ball.

Some of the best times I ever had were when we were on these fresh­man bas­ket­ball teams. I was a point guard; I had Barack on one side and this guy Mark on the oth­er side. We had played bas­ket­ball togeth­er since we were kids,” he said. “That was the most fun … What’s inter­est­ing is, 30 years lat­er, his biggest sup­port­ers are all his for­mer bas­ket­ball bud­dies.”

… At Puna­hou, an elite pri­vate school, Oba­ma quick­ly focused his atten­tion on bas­ket­ball — like most of the kids there, Ando said. “Puna­hou was bas­ket­ball heav­en,” he said. “We had, like, 18 bas­ket­ball hoops through­out the cam­pus. You could always find a game.… 

Beyond bas­ket­ball, Ando remem­bers Oba­ma as a dri­ven stu­dent. Although Oba­ma was not from a wealthy fam­i­ly, he was able to attend because of his scholas­tic achieve­ment and with the help of finan­cial aid.

 “He had this thirst for knowl­edge that we did­n’t have. I always thought that was what set him apart: his quest for more than was offered up in school. “He was always the smartest guy,” Ando said. “He was prob­a­bly the only var­si­ty ath­lete tak­ing the heav­i­est math load that you could take. “I remem­ber won­der­ing out loud: ‘Does Bar­ry want to be a jock or a brain?’

… Ando said the care and atten­tion Oba­ma’s grand­par­ents gave him was obvi­ous then and shines through today. “His grand­par­ents, espe­cial­ly his grand­fa­ther, would have liked to see him devel­op … he was a guy who was always there. … He was team grand­fa­ther because he was always there at the games. …

Video: Inter­view with Dean Aldo

Adds Dean Ando, anoth­er class­mate, “He’s always bal­anced dif­fer­ent worlds very well in terms of aca­d­e­mics, social­iz­ing and ath­let­ics. He just did more than the aver­age guy.”

Dean and BarryBar­ry was into things that oth­er kids our age weren’t into,” says Ando, 46, recall­ing a time in mid­dle school when they went to a record store just to browse. 

He went through the entire jazz sec­tion while we were there. … That affects me to this day — he’s the one who intro­duced me to jazz.”

Ando recalls a rumor he heard that Oba­ma was the son of a Kenyan prince — a rumor that Oba­ma him­self con­fessed to start­ing at lunch one day, only to regret it lat­er when he learned that his father, Barack Sr., was com­ing to vis­it the school.

But even that turned out OK, as class­mates heard the lush descrip­tions of his father’s home­land and the sto­ries of his tribe’s cul­tur­al prac­tices.

Ando was among those class­mates.

All I remem­ber is Bar­ry was just so hap­py that day it was incred­i­ble,” he said. “What I remem­ber most was the dad and Bar­ry had the same smile. His dad was wear­ing this nice blue blaz­er, and he was nice to us, he talked to us.” 

Kel­li Furushi­ma, Class­mate

The num­ber at Dun­ham’s apart­ment in a non­de­script Hon­olu­lu high rise has not changed in more than a quar­ter-cen­tu­ry. It is the same one that a young Oba­ma wrote in the year­book of a petite black-haired beau­ty named Kel­li Furushi­ma, the object of his high school crush. She wist­ful­ly showed a reporter the love note Oba­ma wrote in June 1979. Furushi­ma paused, then sighed, point­ing out how the poten­tial pres­i­dent was prone to draw­ing a lit­tle Afro atop the “B” and the “O” on his sig­na­ture. “Isn’t that sweet?” she asked. “You can see how he was much more sen­si­tive than the oth­er guys, even back then.”

He was a hap­py-go-lucky guy,’ Kel­li Furushi­ma [said]. ‘I was one of the cheer­lead­ers that would watch the guys play ball after school. I nev­er real­ly saw him with a steady girl­friend but a lot of girls liked him because he was fun and ath­let­ic and tall and dark and hand­some in a real­ly cute way. He’s so thin now but he had real cheeks back then. Every time I saw him he was smil­ing and jok­ing around with his friends.’

Every­body liked him,” says class­mate Kel­li Furushi­ma. “He was very friend­ly, very warm and had a great sense of humor… He just seemed real­ly laid back in school,” says Furushi­ma, 45. “He became polit­i­cal some­time after­ward, because I did not see any hint of that in high school. … Except for one thing.”

She recalls a poem he once wrote that showed there was more to her class­mate than just bas­ket­ball and books. 

It was some­thing about an old man on an old for­got­ten road,” Furushi­ma says. “It was some­thing to the effect of ‘In my hon­or he pulled out old for­got­ten dig­ni­ty and walked straight in a crooked world.’

Kids in high school don’t nor­mal­ly write poet­ry like that.”

He nev­er ran for any kind of stu­dent gov­ern­ment posi­tion. He was­n’t an out­stand­ing schol­ar or any­thing, but he was a thinker and he was a writer from ear­ly on. Oth­er than that you just would nev­er even dream that he would exceed where he has.”

            Mixed Races          protest

Jeff Cox, Class­mate

Jeff Cox, on los­ing a debate in a high school speech class: “He either had a nat­ur­al tal­ent for that or he had spent a lot of time think­ing about how to frame issues because he was very poised and he was very clear. He was very sophis­ti­cat­ed, even then, in the way he kind of dis­sect­ed the issues and framed his argu­ments.” 

 Joe Hansen, Class­mate

Gramps was my bud­dy,’ said Joe Hansen, who was one of the five or six friends who would ‘pile into the apart­ment and just hang out and watch bas­ket­ball or do what­ev­er’ at week­ends. ‘He was nev­er that author­i­ty guy, you know: “Don’t do that, don’t do this” type of thing. He was more like one of the guys, easy­go­ing, and he kind of ran around with us. Tutu was much qui­eter. I’d say she was the dis­ci­pli­nar­i­an.’

Hansen recalls going to a Cru­saders con­cert with Oba­ma and being almost the only white per­son there. Anoth­er time, Oba­ma invit­ed Hansen and anoth­er friend, Tom, who was half-white and half-Chi­nese, to come along with him to a par­ty. ‘We stuck out like a sore thumb because we were white and still in high school and this was a col­lege par­ty. People came up to us say­ing, “Who are you. Why are you here?” and we were say­ing, “Er, we came with Bar­ry.” It was awk­ward.’

Mitchell Kam, Class­mate

In ret­ro­spect, every­body enjoyed hav­ing him as a class­mate,” said Mitchell Kam, anoth­er mem­ber of the Puna­hou Class of 1979.

You’re sur­round­ed by over­achiev­ers and you expect peo­ple to be very suc­cess­ful, but I don’t think any­body imag­ines you to run for pres­i­dent or be pope or any­thing like that.”

Barry sig

Lore­na Gar­wood, Class­mate

Now, that fun­ny kid who played bas­ket­ball, sang in the choir and wrote for the school news­pa­per could become our nation’s leader.  “You don’t think you’re in school in sixth grade with some­body who’s going to be Pres­i­dent one day,” Gar­wood said. “And that thought just blows my mind every time I think about it.”

Ber­nice Glenn Bow­ers, Class­mate

But for­mer Puna­hou pupils doubt that Oba­ma was ever seri­ous­ly involved in drugs. ‘He was so not a drug­gie,’ Ber­nice Glenn Bow­ers laughed. ‘He couldn’t have main­tained his stud­ies, his sports. There’s no way he could be what he was on the court and be a drug­gie. It was kind of fun­ny that he actu­al­ly said that.’ 

He seems to have the skills that a lot of peo­ple in our class had, which is to pull diverse peo­ple togeth­er,” said Ber­nice Glenn Bow­ers, anoth­er class­mate.

Deb­bie Ching, Class­mate

Few saw Mr. Oba­ma as a stand­out aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly, or intel­lec­tu­al­ly. “He was clear­ly bright,” said a class­mate, Deb­bie Ching, “but there are peo­ple in our class that are nuclear physi­cists.”

Robyn Tana­ka, Class­mate

It’s hard for us to call him Barack,” Robyn Tana­ka, Oba­ma’s Puna­hou class­mate, said. “We’ve known him as Bar­ry.”

Michael Ramos, Class­mate

On drug use: “It did­n’t stand out to me,” said Michael Ramos, who was one of Oba­ma’s clos­est friends at the Puna­hou School in Hon­olu­lu. “It was not the focal point of our lives. It was­n’t like we all thought we’ve got to do some­thing to help Barack because it’s get­ting out of con­trol.” About Oba­ma’s using cocaine, he said, “I did­n’t know him to do that.”

Greg Orme, Class­mate

He had a real intel­lec­tu­al bent, his mom being from the aca­d­e­m­ic world,” says class­mate Greg Orme ’79, now a build­ing con­trac­tor, not­ing Ann Soe­toro’s Ph.D. in anthro­pol­o­gy. “He had a world­ly view. He would talk about peo­ple in Pak­istan and was a lot more aware of Mid­dle East pol­i­tics than any­body I knew. He was fol­low­ing con­flicts around the world and talked about it all the time. He read a lot on his own, too — books on phi­los­o­phy. So we’d talk about world pol­i­tics or exis­ten­tial­ism.” Orme paused then added with a laugh: “He would do most of the talk­ing; I’d chime in.” 

Senior YearOrme spent most after­noons with Oba­ma and con­sid­ered him one of his clos­est friends, he said Oba­ma nev­er brought up issues of race, nev­er talked about feel­ing out of place at Puna­hou. “He nev­er ver­bal­ized any of that,” Orme said dur­ing a tele­phone inter­view from his home in Ore­gon. “He was a very provoca­tive thinker. He would bring up world­ly top­ics far beyond his years. But we nev­er talked race.”

One place Oba­ma has said he found a sense of com­mu­ni­ty was on the bas­ket­ball court. A mem­ber of the var­si­ty squad, though not a starter, Oba­ma and his team­mates brought Puna­hou the state cham­pi­onship in 1979, his senior year.

But it was on the court in the off-sea­son that Oba­ma seemed to be even hap­pi­er. Back then, Puna­hou was a com­plete­ly open cam­pus, with sev­er­al bas­ket­ball courts where 20-something men from Hon­olu­lu would come in the late after­noon for what often turned into flashy, high­ly com­pet­i­tive pick­up ses­sions. Many of the men were black.

Orme would stay for the games.

At the time, it was about bas­ket­ball,” said Orme, who has remained friends with Oba­ma over the years and who plays bas­ket­ball with him almost every Christ­mas when the two return to Hawaii to vis­it fam­i­ly. “But look­ing back now I can see he was seek­ing more from those guys than that. He was prob­a­bly study­ing them and learn­ing from them. He was a younger black man look­ing for guid­ance.”

Darin Mau­r­er, Class­mate

He was so smart,” says team­mate Darin Mau­r­er ’79, who is now a min­is­ter. Accord­ing to Mau­r­er, one day Oba­ma had a term paper due, so he went home over lunch, typed it out and hand­ed the fin­ished paper in that after­noon. “He wrote it on the type­writer,” Mau­r­er mar­vels, still impressed by Oba­ma’s seem­ing­ly effort­less abil­i­ty to for­mu­late and orga­nize com­plex ideas. “It was just amaz­ing he could think that coher­ent­ly and not rewrite the paper.”

Darin Mau­r­er, anoth­er bud­dy of Oba­ma’s in Hawaii, nev­er noticed any inter­nal strug­gle. The two met in sev­enth grade, drawn togeth­er by a shared inter­est in bas­ket­ball. Both Darin and his moth­er recall Oba­ma as very inte­grat­ed. Suzanne Mau­r­er recalls that Bar­ry and her white son, who had very curly hair, both sport­ed Afro-style hair­cuts at one point. Most­ly, both Mau­r­ers remem­ber how smart Oba­ma was. “He could whip out a paper that was due the next day the night before, while all the oth­er kids were spend­ing weeks writ­ing,” recalls Suzanne. Darin remem­bers some racial ten­sions in Hawaii at that time—expressed by Native Islanders against both whites and blacks. 

There were deroga­to­ry native words for both races. “I would­n’t be very sur­prised about any sort of deroga­to­ry stuff about a black per­son,” says Darin, a pas­tor who now lives in Texas. “I knew that’s what you had to accept … It was­n’t like it was debil­i­tat­ing. It was just a chal­lenge.”

Bob­by Tit­comb, Class­mate

His pals say he has­n’t changed. “He’s hon­est, he’s truth­ful and he’s always encour­aged the bet­ter things in you,” says Bob­by Tit­comb. “And you always go back to those peo­ple who water your plant, who water your gar­den.”

Tit­comb recalls when the two friends would take off by them­selves into the Hawai­ian for­est. “We’d go hike up Pea­cock Flats and camp, just the two of us,” he says. “We’d try to get away from every­thing. We’d basi­cal­ly live on nuts and what­ev­er we could eat on the trail for two or three days. And we’d talk about how the world could be. We did­n’t say, Would­n’t it be great if we could dri­ve this car or if I could own this house. It was, Don’t you think the world should be more like this?”

Christo­pher Snelling, Class­mate

My fam­i­ly moved to the States when I was 13 dad was a semi-retired archi­tect and we lived in Hon­olu­lu and I went to the pri­vate Puna­hou Acad­e­my. I was in year 9 and Oba­ma was a year ahead of me,” Mr Snelling said.

I have fol­lowed his career for 18 months with more than a mod­icum of inter­est since dis­cov­er­ing that the Bar­ry Oba­ma I knew at school was the same Barack Oba­ma that came from nowhere to tack­le Hilary Clin­ton.”

Mr Snelling who was in the same class at the elite school of 3000 stu­dents as the actor Jack Nichol­son’s daugh­ter knew Oba­ma quite well, though the two weren’t extreme­ly close. “We had lots of social inter­ac­tion at school. He was qui­et, very con­sid­ered, super smart, well read, pret­ty engaged and was a good bas­ket­baller.” 

Leslie Price, Class­mate

Not only did I go to high school with him, I sat at his table at the senior prom,” says [Leslie] Price, who grad­u­at­ed from Puna­hou a year after Oba­ma. Price’s date to the prom was Dar­rell Gabriel, a bas­ket­ball team­mate who still shoots hoops with Oba­ma when the now-Pres­i­dent vis­its Hawaii. “You know, I can’t remem­ber who Barry’s date was … but we all had a very nice time,” she says.

Price remem­bers Oba­ma as a friend­ly and qui­et stu­dent. “He was your aver­age, qui­et guy. He always had a smile on his face. He was very low key, non-con­tro­ver­sial. He didn’t have any ene­mies. We had this build­ing on cam­pus that we called jock hall—he’d hang out there with his bas­ket­ball team. The bas­ket­ball team is going to the inau­gu­ra­tion.”

Burt Heil­bron, Class­mate

The Bar­ry you saw back then, he was a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent … not out in the lime­light,” said Burt Heil­bron, anoth­er class­mate, who is vice pres­i­dent of Hawai­ian Agents Inc., a prod­uct ware­hous­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion com­pa­ny. “He was not out­spo­ken, but always a very well-liked per­son at Puna­hou.”

Tom Boyle, Class­mate

A lot of peo­ple regard him as sort of this exot­ic crea­ture that grew up in Hawaii and Indone­sia, and I think that scares some peo­ple. They like to think of him from Chica­go, in the heart­land,” said Boyle. “But with­in a three-block range, there’s the hos­pi­tal he was born in, the apart­ment that he grew up in and the school that he went to, and then also the church where our senior-year class was blessed. All of that is on the same street. It’s a small-town kind of sto­ry.”

Kei­th Kaku­gawa, Class­mate

At Puna­hou, a prepara­to­ry school that had few black stu­dents, Kei­th Kaku­gawa and Mr. Oba­ma were close friends. They met when Mr. Oba­ma was a fresh­man and Mr. Kaku­gawa, who is Japan­ese-Hawai­ian, was a junior. Mr. Kaku­gawa remem­bered that the two often dis­cussed wealth and class and that their dis­af­fec­tion would sur­face. He said race would come up in the con­ver­sa­tions, usu­al­ly when talk­ing about white girls they thought about dat­ing.

We were deal­ing with accep­tance and adap­ta­tion, and both had to do with the fact that we were not part of the mon­eyed elite,” Mr. Kaku­gawa said.

Mr. Kaku­gawa, who spent sev­en years in and out of prison for drug offens­es begin­ning in 1996, said he pres­sured Mr. Oba­ma into drink­ing beer. But Mr. Oba­ma did not smoke mar­i­jua­na dur­ing the two years they spent time togeth­er even though it was read­i­ly avail­able, Mr. Kaku­gawa said, adding that he nev­er knew Mr. Oba­ma to have done cocaine. “As far as pot, booze or coke being a preva­lent part of his life, I doubt it,” Mr. Kaku­gawa said. He had grad­u­at­ed, how­ev­er, by the time Mr. Oba­ma was in his junior and senior years, when he wrote that he most fre­quent­ly used mar­i­jua­na and cocaine “when you could afford it.”

Kei­th Kaku­gawa was a close friend of Oba­ma’s at the Puna­hou School. (He appears in “Dreams” as a revised char­ac­ter named “Ray” who may be a com­pos­ite of more than one Oba­ma friend.) 

He says that Oba­ma, being a dark-skinned kid grow­ing up in a white house­hold, sensed that some­thing was amiss. “He felt that he was not get­ting a part of who he was, the his­to­ry,” says Kaku­gawa, who is also of mixed race. He recalls Oba­ma’s read­ing black authors —James Bald­win, Ralph Elli­son, Langston Hughes—looking for clues. Kei­th did­n’t know at first that Oba­ma’s giv­en name was Barack. “We were in the library and there was a Mal­colm X book,” Kaku­gawa tells NEWSWEEK. “He grabbed it and looked at it and he’s check­ing it out, and I said, ‘Hold on, man. What you gonna do? Change your name to some­thing Mus­lim?’ He said, ‘Well, my name is Barack Oba­ma.’ And I said, ‘No it isn’t.’ And we got in an argu­ment about that in the library and they had to tell us, ‘Shh­hh’.”

Kaku­gawa remem­bered that the two often dis­cussed wealth and class and their dis­af­fec­tion would sur­face because they were not from rich “Porsche-style fam­i­lies” like many of their class­mates. He said that race would come up in the con­ver­sa­tions, usu­al­ly when talk­ing about white girls they thought about dat­ing. “We were deal­ing with accep­tance and adap­ta­tion, and both had to with the fact that we were not part of the mon­eyed elite,” Kaku­gawa said.

Kaku­gawa, who spent sev­en years in and out of prison for drug offens­es begin­ning in 1996, said he pres­sured Oba­ma into drink­ing beer. But Oba­ma did not smoke mar­i­jua­na dur­ing the two years they spent time togeth­er even though it was read­i­ly avail­able, he said, adding that he nev­er knew Oba­ma to have done cocaine.

As far as pot, booze or coke being a preva­lent part of his life, I doubt it,” Kaku­gawa said. He had grad­u­at­ed, how­ev­er, by the time Oba­ma was in his junior and senior years, when he wrote that he most fre­quent­ly used mar­i­jua­na and cocaine “when you could afford it.”

Lar­ry Tavares, Class­mate

He always had a bas­ket­ball in his hands and was always look­ing for a pick­up game,” said team­mate Lar­ry Tavares, 46, now an estate plan­ner at First Hawai­ian Bank.

Rus­sell Cun­ning­ham, Class­mate

Rus­sell Cun­ning­ham, a close friend who often went body surf­ing with Oba­ma, remem­bered his friend Bar­ry for intro­duc­ing him to new music and for giv­ing him sound advice.

He intro­duced us to jazz and George Ben­son when we were all lis­ten­ing to rock ’n’ roll,” said Cun­ning­ham, now an attor­ney in Sacra­men­to, Calif. “He also told me to stick to my stud­ies because they’ll take me where I want to go. And I did, and I got to where I want­ed to be.”

The ‘Rat-Ballers’: Oba­ma’s High School Crew

The year was 1979 and Hawai­i’s Puna­hou High School bas­ket­ball team was in the state finals, dom­i­nat­ing, 32–11, at the half. Out on the court was No. 23, but long before Michael Jor­dan made that num­ber famous, anoth­er play­er was stand­ing out for oth­er rea­sons. His name was Bar­ry Oba­ma. Some­times called “Bar­ry O’bomber” for his jump shot, that play­er is bet­ter known today as pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Sen. Barack Oba­ma. At least, that’s how he’s known every­where else.

Oba­ma’s team­mates Alan Lum and Dan Hale say those years with the kid they called “Bar­ry” are some of their most mem­o­rable. The three friends were part of a bas­ket­ball-obsessed group of stu­dents known as the “Rat-ballers.” “I mean in that forum of a bas­ket­ball or a pick­up game or you know, as a team­mate. … He just had some­thing about him. He had this charis­mat­ic nature,” Hale said.

Teach­ers and friends here say there’s actu­al­ly quite a lot about Oba­ma that has­n’t changed, right down to the way he holds him­self. “The way he walks, yeah. Exact­ly the same,” Lum said. “He could beat any­body in a debate and we would­n’t even real­ize we got beat because we’d end up agree­ing with him,” Hale said. “He would be very straight to the point and then he’d just have a way of just get­ting peo­ple to agree.”

  Basketball 1979  Action shot  Basketball 5

Mark Heflin, Bas­ket­ball Friend

Mark Heflin played on the Puna­hou bas­ket­ball team with Oba­ma (nick­named Bar­ry O’Bomber on account of his impres­sive dou­ble-pump drop shot). He said, ‘Whites are a minor­i­ty in Hawaii so I was in a minor­i­ty, though not as small a one as him. Bar­ry had a good style, he was charis­mat­ic even back then, and he seemed to flow between lots of groups. But you nev­er real­ly know what’s going on in a person’s mind.’ His friend was aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly gift­ed, though at that stage of his life he didn’t work hard enough to tru­ly excel.

Peter­son explained: ‘For Bar­ry, this was the begin­ning of ask­ing what it means to be a black man in Amer­i­ca. His expe­ri­ence has been main­ly with his white grand­par­ents and his white mom. In Hawaii, there’s lots of cul­tures around but he didn’t have a strong con­nect­ing point to any­one in black cul­ture. I was a safe link to that. Rik and Bar­ry were bi-racial. I was from a mil­i­tary fam­i­ly but I’m thor­ough­ly black. Like most kids try­ing to dis­cov­er who they are, for him that was a big issue.’

Dan Hale, Bas­ket­ball Friend

He was the kind of guy who could walk into a room and nav­i­gate the cliques,” says bas­ket­ball team­mate Dan Hale ’81, who now coach­es Puna­hou bas­ket­ball. “My biggest impres­sion of him was the way he could com­mu­ni­cate with peo­ple. You always felt con­fi­dent around him, no mat­ter what group you belonged to.”

Alan Lum, Bas­ket­ball Friend

He had this dou­ble pump,” says team­mate Alan Lum. “He’d clutch the ball, jump and stay up in the air and pump the ball and shoot while you were com­ing down. So if you were smart, you’d jump two sec­onds after he did and maybe you’d have a chance.”

While not a starter, Oba­ma had pres­ence. “He was a leader on the court,” says Lum. “He would call peo­ple on it if they were doing some­thing wrong. He would ques­tion coach­es. A lot of things he did, he did for the right rea­son; a lot of ques­tions he asked I was think­ing in my mind, but he was strong and con­fi­dent enough to ask them. I respect­ed him for that.”

…Lum, who lat­er would coach the bas­ket­ball team at Puna­hou as well as teach ele­men­tary school there, recalled Oba­ma as always being the first to con­front coach­es when he felt they were not fair­ly allot­ting play­ing time. Oba­ma was­n’t shy about advo­cat­ing for him­self and his fel­low back­up play­ers, Lum said. “He’d go right up to the coach dur­ing a game and say, ‘Coach, we’re killing this team. Our sec­ond string should be play­ing more.’ ”

But it was on the court in the off-sea­son that Oba­ma seemed to be even hap­pi­er. Back then, Puna­hou was a com­plete­ly open cam­pus, with sev­er­al bas­ket­ball courts where 20-some­thing men from Hon­olu­lu would come in the late after­noon for what often turned into flashy, high­ly com­pet­i­tive pick­up ses­sions. Many of the men were black. Orme would stay for the games.

At the time, it was about bas­ket­ball,” said Orme, who has remained friends with Oba­ma over the years and who plays bas­ket­ball with him almost every Christ­mas when the two return to Hawaii to vis­it fam­i­ly. “But look­ing back now I can see he was seek­ing more from those guys than that. He was prob­a­bly study­ing them and learn­ing from them. He was a younger black man look­ing for guid­ance.”

Rik Smith, Bas­ket­ball Friend

Then and now, Puna­hou and Hawaii liked to see them­selves as more diverse and col­or­blind than the rest of the nation. But the real­i­ty felt far dif­fer­ent for the hand­ful of African-Amer­i­cans attend­ing class­es there.

Rik Smith, a black Puna­hou stu­dent two years old­er than Oba­ma, remem­bers a Hal­loween when white stu­dents would dress as slaves, com­ing to school in tat­tered clothes with their faces paint­ed black with shoe pol­ish. “Like being black was a fun­ny cos­tume in and of itself,” recalled Smith, now a doc­tor who spe­cial­izes in geri­atrics in Cal­i­for­nia.

Puna­hou was an amaz­ing school,” Smith said. “But it could be a lone­ly place. … Those of us who were black did feel isolated–there’s no ques­tion about that.”

Tony Peter­son, Bas­ket­ball Friend

There were only five black kids out of 1,600. I used to get to school ear­ly; I’d see Bar­ry and he’d say: ‘Let’s go shoot some hoops’ and we’d play pick-up bas­ket­ball togeth­er. He was a bit chub­by but far bet­ter than me. Rik, Bar­ry and myself jock­eyed around and talked casu­al­ly, and realised that here we are, intel­li­gent black men, and we could have some good con­ver­sa­tions.

We’d sit on the side­step of the library, where a radio would be play­ing Mar­vin Gaye and the Eagles, and have these great con­ver­sa­tions about life…

He was 14 then, Rik was 16, I was 17, and Bar­ry was def­i­nite­ly match­ing us. We talked about the future. Rik said he’d be a doc­tor, which he is; I was going to be a lawyer, which I’m not; and Bar­ry was going to be a bas­ket­ball play­er. Bar­ry wrote in my year book: ‘Go on and get that law degree, and I’m going to be a famous bas­ket­ball play­er, and when I need to sue my team I’ll call you.’ Of course he went on to be the lawyer and not a shab­by one either.

We talked about race but not, I thought, out of a deep sense of pain. The rev­o­lu­tion­ary anger start­ed to die down in the Sev­en­ties. We weren’t deal­ing with the harsh bar­ri­ers, more with the rate of change, the progress we were mak­ing. Black cul­ture was pop­u­lar across the race spec­trum. Jesse Jack­son was a big pub­lic fig­ure, every­one loved Ste­vie Won­der, the most pop­u­lar sports star was Julius ‘Doc­tor J’ Ervin, the bas­ket­ball genius. So we were talk­ing about things like: would the girls date us black guys and would we see a black Pres­i­dent in our life­time? The answer to the first was yes and on the sec­ond our take was: there’ll be progress, but we won’t see it hap­pen.

Decades lat­er, I was in a book­store in Boul­der, Col­orado, vis­it­ing my broth­er Kei­th and he picks this book Dreams From My Father out of the remain­der bin and said: ‘Look who wrote this.’ It was Bar­ry’s mem­oir. Where he talks about his Puna­hou years, I was sur­prised by the agony he was feel­ing. But I’d been black all my life in a way that Bar­ry sort of had­n’t. Peo­ple looked at him and saw a black man, but his own iden­ti­ty was that he was raised by and liv­ing with his white moth­er and these white grand­par­ents. And maybe because of his white half, white peo­ple were will­ing to let their racist side out in front of him. So he had a lot to wres­tle with, espe­cial­ly as a teenag­er. He was ques­tion­ing things and fol­low­ing them towards agony and res­o­lu­tion…

We talked about race as a social issue,’ he said. ‘We talked about the effects of race in our coun­try. Not out of a deep sense of pain – you know, we thought we were smart. In Hawaii, we were in a small­er minor­i­ty but we weren’t a hat­ed minor­i­ty. There was a respect for black peo­ple because the Hawai­ians felt a sense of kin­ship with us. Since there were so few of us, they didn’t know quite what to think of us.’

Every­one knew him as Bar­ry. Tony had nev­er even known his real name. In this state of racial iso­la­tion, Tony and Bar­ry and one of the oth­er black pupils, Rik Smith, had begun to meet once a week on the steps out­side the atten­dance office, where they would sit and talk. 

As Tony recalls, 30 years lat­er, their talks were rarely earnest. He can­not remem­ber Bar­ry express­ing the ago­nies of racial iden­ti­ty, the strug­gle to become “a black man in Amer­i­ca” that he would write about lat­er in that book. They used to talk about all kinds of things. In March 1976, Tony had tape-record­ed one of their con­ver­sa­tions for an Eng­lish project. He still had it in March 2008.  

Rik: “Have you guys ever thought about time?” 

Bar­ry: “Yeah.”

Tony: “I thought about it.” 

Rik: “Think about time, okay. What is it? What is time?” 

Tony: “I don’t know.” 

Bar­ry: “Eh. Time is just a col­lec­tion of human … lis­ten, this is gonna sound good, boy! See, time is just a col­lec­tion of human expe­ri­ences com­bined so that they make a long, flow­ing stream of thought.” 

Bar­ry was 14, younger than the oth­er two. He was bright, Tony recalls, but not espe­cial­ly charis­mat­ic, so Tony was amazed lat­er to see how mag­net­ic his friend had become, watch­ing him on TV. They talked about girls and about race. Would the white and Asian girls date them, those black boys? (They would.) Why was a young black man with a book per­ceived to be “act­ing white”? Would there ever be a black pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States? Not in their life­time, they con­clud­ed. They could­n’t imag­ine it. 

   Chris McLach­lin, Puna­hou High School Bas­ket­ball Coach

Oba­ma’s coach, how­ev­er, remem­bers one thing that has changed. Back then, Oba­ma nev­er went any­where with­out his bas­ket­ball, a ball giv­en to him by his absent father. And he remem­bers Oba­ma’s dri­ve, always push­ing for more min­utes on the court. He says that while Oba­ma was­n’t the best on the team, he might have worked the hard­est. “I can remem­ber him being here ear­ly and play­ing before school,” said his coach, Chris McLach­lin. “I remem­ber him bounc­ing his ball, books in one hand, ball in the oth­er hand. Shoot­ing bas­kets dur­ing recess or at lunchtime. I remem­ber him shoot­ing bas­kets after school. I remem­ber him being, prob­a­bly, in the gym when he was­n’t sup­posed to be. When there was­n’t a teacher but he went there any­way, he just had to shoot.”

His old coach remem­bers the last time he saw Oba­ma in per­son a few years ago. He says he did­n’t want to both­er the new­ly famous politi­cian so he stayed off to the side. “Part way through his speech,” McLach­lin said, “he kind of caught my eye in the back of the chapel and said, ‘Coach Mac, how you doing? You know I used to play bas­ket­ball here you guys and I real­ly was­n’t as good as I thought I was. Was I coach?’ and we sort of laughed about it.” McLach­lin con­tin­ued. “He sort of admit­ted, you know, maybe I pushed the enve­lope a lit­tle bit too much on the min­utes thing and I real­ly was­n’t as good as I thought I was and it was kind of, I thought, a very cogent remark.”

He was what I would call a ‘Bas­ket­ball Jones,’ ” says Chris McLach­lin ’64 who coached the lanky teen dur­ing his senior year on the Var­si­ty team. “That’s a per­son who lives, eats, and sleeps with their bas­ket­ball: they drib­ble it to school, they drib­ble it between class­es, they shoot bas­kets on Mid­dle Field dur­ing lunch. And Bar­ry had that real love and pas­sion for the game.”

Played for­ward, he was a smash­er, dri­ver, post-up, rebound­er kind of guy. Also very good at one-on-one moves, very cre­ative. He just loved the game, would play it 24/7 if he could. One of only a hand­ful of kids I’ve ever coached in 38 years of coach­ing who would drib­ble his bas­ket­ball around with him dur­ing school. First to arrive at prac­tice, last one to leave.”


Baskin RobbinsFamous for­mer Baskin-Rob­bins® scoop­ers include pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and Illi­nois Sen­a­tor Barack Oba­ma, TV hosts Leeza Gib­bons and Rosie O’Don­nell, Chef Bob­by Flay, actress­es Julia Roberts, Taryn Man­ning and Chan­dra Wil­son, actors Eric Dane and Randy Quaid and New York Yan­kees pitch­er Phil Hugh­es.

Video: Oba­ma’s Hon­olu­lu Baskin Rob­bins on Elec­tion Day, 2008


Grad­u­a­tion Pho­tos

    Graduation mom  HS Graduation  BArry and Maya Graduation

Year­book pho­tos

 yearbook page Yearbook page

yearbook 8th grade     Yearbook4   5 ls

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