RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Over the past few months, we've been looking at the common features in the biographies of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It's a series we call Parallel Lives. Yesterday, on WEEKEND EDITION, we heard about President Obama's years as a scholarship student at a prep school in Hawaii. Today, we go to Mitt Romney's high school, prestigious Cranbrook in suburban Detroit. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea has our report.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: At Cranbrook on our recent morning, the hallways are coming to life. Backpacks are slung over shoulders, kids chat in small groups before heading off to history or chemistry or Spanish. Cranbrook has been coed since the mid-'80s. Its overall diversity is very apparent on this morning. The dress code is casual. All changes from when Romney, class of 1965, was a student. We talked to some of his Cranbrook classmates about life at the school back then. Among them, Mark Hendrickson.
MARK HENDRICKSON: Very traditional school. It was modeled after an English public school, which of course means a private school.
GONYEA: A private school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, one of the wealthiest communities in the country. Hendrickson was at Cranbrook on scholarship. Today, he teaches at a small college in Western Pennsylvania. He lived in the same dormitory as Mitt Romney.
HENDRICKSON: First bell would ring at 7 A.M. There's a bell at 7:10 to make sure you were out of the sack. There was a warning bell at 7:25, and at 7:30, you had to be at your place in the dining hall, in your chair...
GONYEA: Ann Arbor attorney Bill Schlecte graduated in '65.
BILL SCHLECTE: You had three boarding halls - Stevens, Marquis and Paige. You lived by the bell. You know, you went to breakfast. Everybody had to wear coats and ties for breakfast, lunch and dinner, for classes.
GONYEA: After the school day came extra-curriculars - sports, intramurals - then dinner. Then, recalls Ted Lowrie, a retired financial services executive, evening study.
TED LOWRIE: By 9:30, study halls were over. You had half an hour to just grab a snack or sit around and talk with other guys. And then 10 o'clock, the underclassmen, lights were out. And then you did it all over again the next day.
GONYEA: Cranbrook School for Boys was founded in 1927. Its Arts and Crafts-style buildings sit on a beautiful 319-acre campus. Famous graduates include brigadier general and Heisman Trophy-winner Pete Dawkins, Scott McNealy, co-founder of Sun Micro Systems, writers Michael Kinsley and Ward Just, and Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame. Again, here's Mark Hendrickson.
HENDRICKSON: OK. Well, this is Cranbrook yearbook of 1965, which was Mitt's senior year.
GONYEA: Hendrickson leafs through the pages.
HENDRICKSON: Here's the Blue Key Club. This is the group that would escort people around the campus and so...
GONYEA: Romney and Hendrickson were both members of the Blue Key Club. Turn the page and it's Romney with the Glee Club and the cross-country team and in something called the Speculator's Club. And this:
HENDRICKSON: We were an all-boy's school so we didn't have cheerleaders, so some of the guys would wear these sweaters. So, here's Mitt in the Pep Club.
GONYEA: Romney's future wife, Ann, was a student at Kingswood, the all-girls school located on the grounds. When Romney first arrived on campus, his father George was the chairman of American Motors Corporation, then one of Detroit's big four auto companies. But having a successful and famous father wasn't unusual at Cranbrook. George Romney became governor during Mitt's sophomore year. Ted Lowrie:
LOWRIE: But I have say I don't, you know, you never saw Mitt and said that's the governor's son. He was one of the guys, quite honestly.
GONYEA: Mitt was known as a committed Republican, but Bill Schlecte, who describes himself as a committed supporter of President Obama, says Cranbrook was not a bastion of conservatism.
SCHLECTE: Not in the least. It was strictly the classes, whether you were taking Latin or French or German or Spanish, history, English, whatever it may be - calculus. No, the conversation was not political at all.
GONYEA: Mitt Romney did have a reputation as a prankster. One particular alleged incident got a lot of mention last May when The Washington Post reported that Romney led a group of boys who forcefully held down another student and cut off his hair. That student was assumed to be gay. Romney said he didn't recall the incident, but he did apologize for any pranks he'd been involved in that. quote, "might have gone too far." Today, Cranbrook officials have no comment on the bullying story, but teacher David Watson did bring it up as we walked the hallways of the school recently. He's the faculty adviser to the student newspaper, which published an editorial about the Washington Post story. The students headlined their piece "It's Not the Media's Cranbrook."
DAVID WATSON: They talk about really how the kind of pranks and bullying that were described in the article were a part of the time, not just something that was characteristic of this individual, and they wanted people to know what the school was like now.
GONYEA: The editorial stressed that the culture of prep schools from back then is very different from today.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCHOLA NOSTRA")
CRANBROOK BOYS CHOIR: (Singing) Oh, God of light and universal truth...
GONYEA: At Cranbrook, you can still hear an all-boys choir sing the school song, sounding much like choirs from when this was Romney's world. Included in the lyric is the school's motto: Aim High. Again, Romney classmate Mark Hendrickson.
HENDRICKSON: They equipped us with an education. They gave us the potential to achieve considerable accomplishments, and he did that. He aimed high, he worked hard, he took advantage of the education he was given, he furthered it.
GONYEA: And Hendrickson says he will be voting for his former classmate in November. Don Gonyea, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCHOLA NOSTRA")
CHOIR: (Singing) ...but wage a noble fight. To know a friend, to live the words aim high, to play the man and fearlessly to die. Cranbrook, thy name, a glowing symbol live...
MARTIN: And you're listening to NPR News.