Friends Recall Obama's Days at Occidental College

The Eagle Rock campus of Occidental College remains practically empty. Students don't return from holiday break until Jan. 20, the same day that their most famous former student takes the presidential oath of office. Friend Ken Sulzer says it's thrilling for everyone who knew him back in those college days.

"I can honestly say I think we have the best and brightest of our generation in that job, and I'm happy for that," he said.

Sulzer lived across the corridor from Obama at Haines Residence Hall back in 1979. Obama's room is empty this year, but back then, it may have been where he first nurtured the idea of life in public service.

"He wanted to help people who were less well off than he. There was no question about that," Sulzer said.

Playing the occasional pick-up game of basketball with Sulzer and his other friends may be where Obama demonstrated his desire to lead. Occidental's head basketball coach, Brian Newhall, was one of those friends.

"Barry, at that time, Barack now, would be that type, let's get it going, pop, pop, pop. You go there, you go there," Newhall remembers.

Neither Newhall nor Sulzer ever sensed that Obama had his eye on the White House, but Sulzer says he does recall what may have been Obama's first political speech atop the steps in front of the college administration building.

"It was an effort to persuade the board of trustees to divest college assets from companies that were doing business with the government of South Africa at the time," Sulzer said.

The connection to President-elect Obama can be felt all over this campus.

The bookstore has a whole line of merchandise with his pictures and slogans. They call it BarOxyWear: T-shirts, coffee mugs, caps, even on diaper covers.

Bookstore director Anne Wolfe says the diaper covers with the slogan, "The Change We Need," are sold out.

Although Obama transferred to Columbia University after just two years at Occidental -- the folks here are still proud to say his journey to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue began at 1600 Campus Drive.

Contact Us