Two hundred years after a similar visit by George Washington, President Bush returned to the playing fields and steepled buildings of Phillips Academy yesterday while demonstrators at his alma mater chanted nearby.
Before about 4000 students, faculty and townspeople, Bush took part in Psalm readings at the academy's weekly Sunday services and recalled his days at the prestigious Andover, Mass., boarding school. The president, a 1942 graduate, attended a private reception after the ceremony for 200 guests.
"He wasn't political at all," Dean of Faculty Kelly Wise said. "It was more whimsical and nostalgic." Friendship and the importance of athletics were also discussed by the president, said Wise.
"I loved those years," Bush told assembled guests. "They did, indeed, teach the great end and real business of living."
Some in the audience, however, said the week's preparations and security for the convocation raised overly high expectations.
"Students were excited that he was going to come," said senior Bo P. Tan, co-president of the Asian Society. "We all went with a sense that even if we didn't like his politics, we still wanted to go because it was just exciting."
But Tan added, "It was odd--the huge preparations and expense to the school that it took for him to speak for an hour or so."
"I was expecting too much," said Peter C. Warsaw '72, a music instructor. "Those [secret service] guys are certainly from a different planet. They take you back to the age of nine when you played cops and robbers and took it seriously...But once Bush stepped on the scene, it was very down to earth."
"He was believable and appropriate...and he showed a sense of humor," Warsaw said.
As Bush--dressed to match school colors in a conservative blue jacket--reminisced, 200 "polite and avid" student and faculty protested administration stances against gay and lesbian rights, abortion rights and Nicaraguan autonomy, Wise said.
"It was very well done and very classy," said Wise.
"It was primarily an ecumenical service, but it was important that there be that protest," said Ada M. Fan, an English instructor.