Bush daughters avoided campus limelight
Walk down the street in this college town and you might not notice Barbara Bush. She could be any Yale senior eating ice cream outside a candy shop -- except for the Secret Service agent at her side.
College ends in days for both of President Bush's daughters, for Jenna on Saturday with a degree in English and for Barbara on Monday with a degree in humanities.
Their commencement exercises should be as low key as their four years of study. Neither the president nor first lady Laura Bush will attend, fearing the extra security would detract from the festivities. Instead, the family plans private dinners with friends in each college town.
Except for a highly publicized incident at a Texas bar and a few gossip-column appearances, the 22-year-old sisters have stayed out of the limelight that follows a president's children. All the time, their schools, friends, classmates and professors have kept tightlipped about their private lives.
"I've known Jenna since she was in middle school. We have tried to respect her wishes in that regard," said Patricia Ohlendorf, University of Texas vice president for legal affairs. "She wants to be as regular a student as possible."
Being just a regular student was a challenge from the beginning. In 2000, just months before the disputed presidential election, Barbara arrived at Yale -- a left-leaning campus of 5,000 undergraduates who were mostly opposed, if not hostile, to her father's candidacy.
She was the fourth generation of Bushes to attend the prestigious, 303-year-old Ivy League school. Her father was even born at Yale. Her grandfather, George H.W. Bush, was a student at the time.
Barbara lived in the same residential college, Davenport College, as her father. Yale divides each class among 12 residential colleges, each with its own dorms, dining halls, sports, activities and coats of arms. Davenport's is three crosses and a chevron in black on a white shield.
In Austin, Jenna blended among the 50,000 students on the sprawling UT campus. The capital city was like home -- she had lived in the governor's mansion during the six years her father was the state's chief executive.
"I think she is able to hide better because it's such a large campus," said Erin Keck, managing editor of the Daily Texan campus newspaper.
As an English major at UT, Jenna could have studied such classes as creative writing, the poetry of Milton, and ethnic and Third World literature. Ohlendorf would not reveal Jenna's classes or grades, but said Jenna had done "very well" and noted she was graduating in four years.
Barbara studied the medieval, Renaissance and modern periods and their literature, history, religion, arts and philosophy. Among the requirements for a humanities degree at Yale is a senior essay.
One classmate, Sabrina Sedique, said she would sometimes say hello to Barbara in their world religion class. "She seems like a lovely person," Sedique said. "She's very down to earth -- a very grounded and well-rounded person."
Classmates who were closer to Barbara declined to comment, and at least one friend called the White House to report inquiries from The Associated Press.
Like their mother, the twins joined the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Barbara has been said to be a member of Skull and Bones, the secret society for Yale seniors that tapped her great-grandfather, grandfather and father for membership.
Yale is used to having celebrity students. Actors, athletes, the scions of wealthy families and even some foreign royalty have studied there. The university took a strict "no comment" position on Barbara's attendance. Rumpus, a campus humor magazine, was chastised for writing about her.
Dr. David Musto, a physician and fellow of Davenport College, said he never met Barbara but knew that her classmates respected her wish to stay out of the spotlight.
"It reminds me of when Jodie Foster was here," Musto said of the actress and Yale graduate. "The students really took care of her privacy."
At the University of Texas, people occasionally saw Jenna jogging along Austin's hike-and-bike trail downtown with Secret Service agents trailing nearby. The campus newspaper decided to cover her only if she made news unusual for a UT student or if she aligned herself with specific campus organizations or political causes.
But other UT students don't make national news when they're cited for alcohol offenses. In May 2001, authorities accused the then-19-year-old sisters of having drinks at a Mexican restaurant in Austin.
Barbara pleaded no contest to underage possession of alcohol. She was ordered to perform eight hours of community service and attend alcohol-awareness class.
It was the second alcohol-related offense for Jenna. She was fined $600 for trying to use a false ID. She lost her driver's license for 30 days, had to do more community service and attend an alcohol-awareness class.
After graduation, the sisters plan to travel with friends, then help with their father's re-election campaign, said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for Laura Bush.
"While they're not very political people, they do want to do something to help their dad out," Johndroe said.
Both plan to get jobs or attend graduate school, he said. Each had a summer internship in New York -- Barbara at a fashion house, Jenna at a public relations firm.
A visit to Africa has inspired Barbara to work with AIDS sufferers, he said, while Jenna is interested in following her mother's career in education.