Today, The New Yorker released a series of never-before-seen photographs of Barack Obama and his friends — including journalist Margot Mifflin — as students at Occidental College. The photos show a passionate, intelligent young man, a participant in activist and artistic communities who surrounded himself with other politically and aesthetically committed young people.
As longtime readers of this blog know, Obama is not the only such person to have attended Occidental College in the last few decades. I, too, was an Occidental student, and I, too, was photographed participating in the wide range of cultural and political activities. Placing the photos side by side allows us to trace the parallel development of two men — separated by decades, but not by ambition, intelligence, sophistication, or work ethic.
Here, Obama can be seen participating in a 1981 protest against his college's investments in apartheid South Africa. I've juxtaposed it with a photo of me sleeping off a hangover behind an enormous box of pizza, for obvious reasons.
Obama "at a dinner thrown by a student group called Ujima in honor of Black History Month." I too, often, ate dinner, or just drank beer, around dinner time, as this photo depicts.
Mifflin describes this as "'the fishbowl,' a basement room of the library where he often studied." I don't really remember much about the library, to be honest? I remember my couch, for sure.
Looking at these photos — at these two parallel, unmistakably similar lives — it's hard not to be struck by the maturity and seriousness with which both the president and myself took our studies and our commitments. And, yes, it's hard not to follow the parallels.
[New Yorker, images by Tom Grauman, Spencer Jemelka, Amy Laslett and Eliana Penzner]