IMAGES ASSOCIATED PRESS / COURTESY THE OAHUAN, PUNAHOU SCHOOL YEARBOOK
Punahou left lasting impression on Obama
Then known as Barry, the presidential hopeful went against the grain
Long before he became Barack Obama -- junior senator from Illinois and presidential candidate -- he was just Barry, the good-natured, unassuming kid.
He loved basketball. He loved books. He always wore a smile. He got along with everyone.
He did not come from privilege, but was able to attend the exclusive Punahou School based on his achievement and with the help of financial aid.
» Age: 45
» Born: Aug. 4, 1961, Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, Honolulu
» Hawaii schooling: 1979 Punahou School graduate
» College: 1983, bachelor's degree in political science, Columbia University. 1991, magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. First African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.
» Political experience: Illinois state senator, 1997-2004; United States senator, 2004-present
» Family: Wife, Michelle; two daughters, Maile Ann and Natasha
» What's next: He is expected to formally announce Saturday that he is a presidential candidate for the 2008 election.
He was, according to former classmates, just one of the guys.
But he also was more than the average Joe, and friends knew that, too.
They listened to rock 'n' roll; he listened to jazz. They did the required reading; he read "The Fountainhead," by Ayn Rand.
"Everybody liked him," says classmate Kelli Furushima. "He was very friendly, very warm and had a great sense of humor."
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."
Obama is expected to formally announce Saturday in Springfield, Ill., that he is a presidential candidate for the 2008 election.
Some former Punahou classmates say they never saw it coming.
"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.
COURTESY THE OAHUAN
This 1976 photo provided by the Oahuan, the yearbook of Punahou School, shows Barack Obama, in front row, fourth from right, posing with his ninth-grade class outside Punahou School. CLICK FOR LARGE
"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."
His maturity for someone their age also was notable.
"Barry 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."
He had that effect on a lot of people, many of whom describe him as the guy everybody liked and who got along with everyone else.
"In retrospect, everybody enjoyed having him as a classmate," said Mitchell Kam, another member of the Punahou Class of 1979.
That is also why many say they were surprised to read about his internal personal struggle, which he detailed in his 1995 memoir, "Dreams from My Father."
"In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American," the book's jacket reads.
In it, Obama recalls the experience of his childhood and how he dealt with some discrimination, even in a racially diverse location such as Hawaii.
He describes how he endured taunts on his first day of school as a 10-year-old entering fifth grade, after kids learned of his real name and of his African heritage, having a father from Kenya.
"I spent the rest of the day in a daze," he wrote. "A redheaded girl asked to touch my hair and seemed hurt when I refused. A ruddy-faced boy asked me if my father ate people."
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."
As a teenager, Obama went to parties and sometimes sought out gatherings on military bases or at the University of Hawaii that were mostly attended by blacks. He wrote of how he experimented with drugs and let his grades slip in his final years of high school, before ultimately getting on the path that took him to where he is now.
"For him, he was expressing how he was sort of a lost person trying to find direction but got on the road to a successful, productive life," says Kam. "He learned from that experience, and I hope that's what people take out of that."
COURTESY THE OAHUAN
Obama takes a jump shot over a defender. He came off the bench his senior year to help the BuffanBlue win a state championship. CLICK FOR LARGE
Punahou President James Scott recalls how Obama was able to relate his experience to a class of seniors in 2004, just weeks after being elected to the U.S. Senate.
"His opening comment to the students when he spoke was, 'For those of you who are behind in your applications, and you're not living up to your full potential and you're talking back to your parents -- there's hope for you that maybe you can be a senator someday,'" Scott says.
"Part of his message was Punahou gave him the foundation to grow to his full promise as a human being," Scott adds. "He really didn't get that or understand that until after he left here, which is what happens to a lot of high school kids wherever they are."
In an essay for the Punahou Bulletin, published in 1999, two decades after his high school graduation, Obama wrote, "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 that I hold most dear."
And whether he stays in the Senate or moves over to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the bottom line for those who know him is that Hawaii, and Punahou, will always be with him.
Furushima, who says Obama "used to write really sweet things in my yearbook," will always remember him as "such a nice guy who still seems to care about everyone."
"Despite what he may have felt, he doesn't have any sour grapes against anyone."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.