The Classmates: Privilege, Chaos and the End of an Era (Hyperion, $23.95), by longtime Yankee contributor Geoffrey Douglas, is several books: a memoir of his years at St. Paul’s, the New Hampshire prep school that expelled him in 1961; a travelogue of the turbulent decades that followed; and a portrait of his former classmates, including Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.
It was an e-mail group of those classmates, formed to discuss Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, that inspired the book. The more I read, the more I found myself wanting to know: How did that boy become this man? How many of the stumblers, and which ones, have found sure footing?
Douglas tells many stories, but they all include the burden of expectations. Some of his classmates buckled under the load. Some, like Kerry, rose to the pinnacle of success — yet even then, Kerry remained the outsider he had been at St. Paul’s. A politician’s life might have been the last career path on which a wise counselor would have sent him, Douglas observes. But there were always expectations. In college, his roommates used to play “Hail to the Chief” on kazoos when Kerry entered the room.
It’s a touching, troubling book that should be read by every commencement speaker before dropping the leaden mantle of expectations on another graduating class. — Tim Clark