Tag Archives: identity

Pete Buttigieg aimed high early

‘A serious-minded kid’

By Michelle R. Smith – Nov 23, 2019 (APnews.com, abridged)

It was a running joke in his AP U.S. history class at Saint Joseph High School: Would Peter Buttigieg — the smartest kid in class, language whiz and devotee of John F. Kennedy — use his unusual last name in his eventual run for president of the United States? Or would he have a better shot of winning the voters of the future if he went by Montgomery, his middle name?

It was the late 1990s, Bill Clinton was in the White House, and a round-faced teenager in South Bend, Indiana, was viewed by many around him as an eventual successor. As early as grade school, Buttigieg exhibited an attention-grabbing combination of brains and curiosity, the sort of kid with a reputation — among kids and teachers. He would be named high school valedictorian, voted senior class president and chosen Most Likely to be U.S. President. He sat at the adults table.

Now, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg — not Montgomery — is indeed running for the highest office in the land.

It’s an audacious leap. No mayor has ever gone straight to the White House (let alone from a city of just over 100,000). No president has ever been so young (he’ll be 39 on Inauguration Day). And no commander in chief has ever been openly gay (or had a husband).

But people who have known Buttigieg since his Indiana boyhood say it all feels predictable.

Interviews with nearly two dozen people who knew him in his formative years paint a picture of a child with an extraordinary range of talent and ambition, cultivated by a tight-knit family able to indulge his many interests. There were clear signs of the candidate’s earnestness and intensity. Friends and family say he worked to overcome an early shyness by throwing himself into challenges. All the while he felt a bit apart.

“It was always understood,” says Patrick Bayliss, a friend from high school. “It was just kind of matter of fact that he was special and brilliant.”

Now Buttigieg’s intellect is at the core of his campaign narrative. He’s won headlines for his achievements and improbable hobbies. (Speaks Norwegian? Check. Plays the didgeridoo? Yup.) Admirers often cite his intelligence when asked about his appeal, arguing it makes up for a shortage of experience.

Before he was an accomplished pianist, a polyglot, a Harvard graduate and a Rhodes scholar, Buttigieg was the only child of college professors growing up in a bubble of academia in the Rust Belt.

But Buttigieg grew up in another side of South Bend: the cluster of neighborhoods around the University of Notre Dame, home to thousands of students and professors. His parents had stable jobs at the elite Catholic school, and he was educated in private schools whiter and wealthier than the surrounding community.

His father, Joseph, was a professor of English, garnering attention for his scholarship in critical theory and civil society. Joseph earned degrees in his home country — the Mediterranean island nation of Malta — then from Heythrop College in Oxford, England, before moving to the United States to earn his doctorate. He met Buttigieg’s mother, a linguist and Army brat with roots in Indiana, when they were both on faculty at New Mexico State University.

They married and moved to South Bend in 1980. Peter was born two years later. The young family eventually settled on a tree-lined street less than two miles from campus.

Across the river and downtown, abandoned factories, boarded-up stores and empty lots plagued South Bend. Up the hill, it was just a walk to the Golden Dome, the halo at the center of campus.

Peter — the name he went by before he became known as “Mayor Pete” — was a curious and quiet toddler who learned to read at the age of 2 or 3, his mother, Anne Montgomery, said in an interview.

His parents sent him to a Montessori school, where learning is self-directed, hands-on and less structured than at a traditional grade school. But by 6th grade, his parents moved him to a more traditional private school. Buttigieg had figured out how to “game the system,” said Judith Fox, a longtime family friend, recalling the decision.

My mind wandered a lot when I was a kid. And so, it took a nudge from them here and then just to stay on track.” Buttigieg said in an interview with AP.

The smart new kid was sometimes a target. Other kids would want to “take him down a peg,” his mother says. His unusual name drew snickers.

The experience, she believes, was a lesson in “how cruel people can be” and helped steel him to insensitive comments later. “He won them over,” his mother says, by learning to prove himself without aggravating other kids.

Buttigieg remembers a teacher explaining that a child picking on him was just trying to get attention. Something clicked, he says, and he decided the best way to deal with bullies was to get to know them. The lesson still works sometimes when he comes under criticism, he says.

“While you don’t want to reward bad behavior, you do need to make sure that people feel seen.”

In his room, young Peter kept a collection of model planes and a poster of the inside of a cockpit. He aspired to become a pilot or even an astronaut, although his poor eyesight would make that impossible. He became fascinated with the leader closely associated with the space program, JFK, and others in the Kennedy clan.

At around 11 or 12, when asked what he wanted for his birthday, Peter requested a copy of “Profiles in Courage,” Kennedy’s 1955 book on acts of political bravery by eight U.S. senators throughout history. (“I had no idea what that was,” says his friend Joe Geglio, who bought the book for his friend.)

Peter would memorize excerpts of Kennedy speeches. In high school, his close friend James Mueller remembers him reciting a favorite passage from the president’s 1962 “moon” speech: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

Later, when Buttigieg decided to join the military, he would join the Navy, like JFK.

Buttigieg said the Kennedy mystique loomed large in a community as Catholic as South Bend. He was aware that the presidential campaign of Sen. Robert Kennedy, and the Kennedy tragedies, were defining experiences for his parents’ generation. Amid the culture wars of the Clinton era, he looked back nostalgically at a time when big things seemed possible.

By comparison, “we’ve been stuck and haven’t made progress on a lot of the big issues,” Mueller said of his friend’s fixation with the Kennedy era.

By the end of 8th grade, Peter was named valedictorian, which gave him a chance to deliver his own big speech. His performance — practiced and strikingly mature — is still remembered today by people who were there.

“It wasn’t like watching an 8th grader up there,” says classmate Gavin Ferlic.

The adults left the gym commenting about his poise. It wouldn’t be the last time Buttigieg found a constituency in an older generation.

Classmate Loran Parker recalls her grandparents turned to her with what would become a familiar refrain: “Peter would make a great politician.”

Soon after, the South Bend Tribune published a profile when Buttigieg won a statewide essay contest on the importance of the law. In truth, 14-year-old Peter told the newspaper, it wasn’t the law, but aeronautics or journalism that really interested him. The article noted he had won numerous other awards and was set to perform in a statewide piano competition later in the year — he started playing at age 5 — and aspired to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“There are a lot of things I’d like to do,” he told the Tribune.

By the time he arrived at high school, Buttigieg’s reputation had preceded him. Julie Chismar, a teacher at Saint Joe, recalls a buzz among French teachers, who had heard about his language abilities.

Peter had begun to learn French in Montessori and before he got to high school was well on his way to fluency. He also took up Spanish and on his own started learning to read Korean from a friend, Judy Kim. (His campaign does not list Korean as among the seven languages he speaks other than English.)

It’s difficult to find someone to utter a harsh word about young Buttigieg. He wasn’t a jock or the most popular kid, but he wasn’t an outcast. Classmates described him as thoughtful, with a dry wit. If a kid in middle school or high school can respect a fellow kid, they respected him. He didn’t show off his intelligence or raise his hand to answer every question. He held back.

Occasionally, there were signs of the reserve and stiffness that sometimes gets mocked today. When he first met Peter, Mueller, his close high school friend, would tease him good-naturedly — just like he did with his brothers. Peter, who had no siblings, did not appreciate it.

“He likes to make the joke that when he first met me, he didn’t like me very much” Mueller says.

The introvert pushed himself beyond his comfort zone. He joined drama his senior year and performed in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He learned the didgeridoo and played the several-foot-long Australian wind instrument onstage.

In Peter’s basement after school, he and his friends would watch “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” play old school Nintendo games or have Nerf battles, then go outside to play football or soccer. As they got older, his friends would play music together: He learned guitar and bass, and especially liked playing Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix songs, using his wah-wah pedal.

He’d go to parties and even have a drink or two, Mueller said. (When he saw his friend smoke pot, during a visit home from college, Mueller ribbed him: “Are you ever going to run for office someday?”)

Peter moved between groups of friends, but hung out mostly with a group of other smart kids. He dated a couple of girls in high school. Friends said he never seemed to have the usual teen angst about relationships.

Looking back, he says now he always felt different.

“Even though I wasn’t out, and in many ways was not really out to myself, I felt that kind of tension,” Buttigieg said on his campaign bus. “It wasn’t only from being gay, I mean, also just being culturally a little different. Just because I was the son of a Mediterranean immigrant, an academic family, that some people thought was weird, because I had a name that was easy to make fun of and hard to pronounce.”

Several people close to Buttigieg say they never knew he was gay until he came out in his 30s, after he returned from his military tour in Afghanistan. He said at a CNN town hall in October that he was well into his 20s before he acknowledged it to himself.

Even his mother says she had no suspicions before he came out to her and his father in 2015, not long before he made it public in an op-ed in the local newspaper.

“I wonder if I was blind,” his mother told the AP. “He was a private person about personal matters, so I did not inquire or ask. Offered all kinds of opportunities. But no.”

At home, friends who grew up with Buttigieg remember his parents as warm and supportive of whatever Peter wanted to pursue, his house inhabited by an affectionate rescue dog named Olivia, the walls lined with books, art and his mother’s photography, a piano filling the front room.

He and his mom would joke together. He and his dad would obsess — and commiserate — over Notre Dame football. Politics and current events were “in the air” at his house, he says. His father would come home from work, pour himself a drink and open The New York Times. They’d watch the evening news together. Friends and colleagues from the university would come to dinner, and young Peter would join in the conversation.

“I felt like, we spoke as adults from a relatively early age,” he says of his parents. “I was a kind of serious-minded kid, and they took me seriously.”

Still, his family wasn’t politically connected, and he never met any elected officials when he was a kid.

“It took me a while to just feel like it was something I could be part of,” he told the AP. “But it always seemed like something that was the thing that mattered most: what was going on in the world, war and peace and elections, and all of that stuff.”

Later in high school, Buttigieg began to focus more sharply on politics. He joined the Philosophy Club, a way of thinking that suited him, his teacher Patrick McCurry says.

“He was already thinking about the world and systemic problems.”

In the spring of 2000, his senior year, he won the Profiles in Courage essay contest, sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation. His subject was then-U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, now a senator and one of his rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

He praised Sanders’ political courage in calling himself a “socialist” and for representing Kennedy’s ideal of “compromises of issues, not of principles.” He also wrote that Sanders’ conviction and energy could bring people together in a political climate in which cynicism reigned.

“I have heard that no sensible young person today would want to give his or her life to public service,” Buttigieg wrote. “I can personally assure you this is untrue.”

He pursued another path traveled by JFK: Harvard.

A schoolmate, Ian Seniff, remembers Buttigieg telling Mrs. Chismar his acceptance news in a hallway at Saint Joe. He compares the look on Peter’s face to the moment Spider-Man is anointed an Avenger in the movie “Avengers: Infinity War.”

“There’s this look of, ‘This is what I’ve wanted. I’ve accomplished this,’” Seniff said. “And then an instant later, just having this solemn look of, ‘OK, now there’s this added level of responsibility, and it’s time to get ready for work.’”

Those who have known Buttigieg from childhood say they recognize the same things during this presidential run that have driven him all his life.

In his high school history class, when his teacher or other kids would advise him to use his middle name to run for president, his friend Judy Kim recalls that Peter would listen and even welcome their advice.

His last name was too difficult to pronounce. It looked strange when written out. It wasn’t distinguished like other American presidents.

He’d hear them out, then stand by his position. Peter was proud of his Maltese heritage and proud of his last name.

When he ran, he would tell them, it would be as Buttigieg.

[read in full at APnews.com]

In Pete’s Words: The Harvard Crimson

Enjoy columns written by then-student
Pete Buttigieg from 2003 and 2004

The Liberal Art of Redefinition

May 28, 2004 – Compassion. Strength. Morality.

Seeing is Believing

May 10, 2004 – Wilfred Owen and Donald Rumsfeld have next to nothing in common, but Owen’s most important poem and Rumsfeld’s most important Senate testimony Friday share the same controlling nuance…

Making it Worse

April 26, 2004 – One of the classic devices in situation comedy—and some tragedy—is for a character’s solution to a simple problem to prove worse than the problem itself. Rather than accept the consequences of a mistake, the hero comes up with a solution that makes things worse, until things escalate into a climax either with hilarious consequences, or catastrophe, depending on the genre…

Parts of Speech

April 12, 2004 – Politics is always novelistic, but the last week’s worth of news had me flashing back to high school English class…

Running Out of Context

March 22, 2004 – In the middle of a book of short sayings and poems, the great Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) wrote, “Half of what I am telling you has no meaning. But I am telling it to you so that you will understand the meaning of the other half.” It is a defense of the importance of context and it is timely today. In a presidential election year, context is as acutely necessary as it is rare…

Future Imperfect

March 08, 2004 – History has its place, but a lack of balance in the campaign—evidenced by the fact that people know more about his Vietnam service than his politics—can only play into Bush’s hands by taking focus away from the future, which is where his true advantage lies…

1968 Revisited

February 23, 2004 – “The past is never dead,” Faulkner famously said. “It isn’t even past.” As if to prove him right, the press stayed busy last week exploring the dubious narrative of how President Bush got into, and out of, service in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, eyeing its implications for the coming election…

Prudes and Puritans

February 09, 2004 – The American Right Wing is not comfortable with the female form. So we were reminded last week, when Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell voiced his horror at the half-second exposure of Janet Jackson’s famous right breast during the Super Bowl…

Story Lines

January 26, 2004 – Americans need a narrative. Seeking patterns and repetition in history is rooted in the American tradition, ever since the Puritans sought to explain current events in terms of Biblical precedent. Known as typology, their method of reading history, literature and scripture reinforced the idea of divine providence by showing how current events were history in the making, repeating events from earlier, usually in the Bible…

A Vision Thing

January 14, 2004 – Democrats who feel emboldened by weaknesses in the administration are right to look forward to developments in 2004 like the special prosecutor investigation of the CIA leak from the White House, or a forthcoming report by the 9/11 commission that will likely embarrass the President. But those who count on it to bring down the administration are urinating on the wrong tree…

The Struggle for Language

December 08, 2003 – Conservative control over the language of policy is largely creditable to an extremely effective intellectual infrastructure, but the structure of the media makes it all possible. When all discourse must be reduced to brief television packages, anyone who can come up with a two-word version of a complex policy will be rewarded…

Lessons Unlearned

November 24, 2003 – For all the worrisome (comforting?) continuity between the tone of news culture five years ago and its tone today, no one can deny that, unlike the media, political culture has profoundly changed. This asymmetry is dangerous…

Rock the Vote?

November 10, 2003 – Music is always regarded as an index of the times, so a glance at what’s changed in our short student lifetimes could tell us a thing or two. And indeed, there are some lessons in even a casual overview of what has happened to campus music trends just in the last few years…

Hollywood Hypocrisy vs. Neo-Liberal Neurosis

October 27, 2003 – If precedent is any guide, Chris Matthews will ask Al Sharpton tonight at the Institute of Politics (IOP) what his favorite movie is. And if precedent is any guide, it will be his most difficult question of the night. On each of our last two Monday nights of Hardball, the candidate-guest has struggled with the first genuine softball of the evening…

Presidential Poetry

October 14, 2003 – “If more politicians knew poetry and more poets knew politics,” said John F. Kennedy ’40, “I am convinced that the world would be a better place in which to live.” In fact, poetry and politics have had a longstanding relationship…

Frightened—and Fighting Fear

September 29, 2003 – If you feel like getting goose bumps today, borrow your English-concentrating roommate’s copy of the Norton Anthology of English Literature and read W. B. Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming.” Though written in Ireland in 1922, many observers have pointed out that the poem seems almost explicitly about the second coming of the Bush Administration…

The Prospects of Its Youth

February 06, 2003 – Recently, public service has come to be understood exclusively as the direct assistance of the unfortunate by those who are able to help—an activity most commonly described as “community service.” Such activity, from tutoring immigrant children in English to volunteering at a homeless shelter, is rightly one of the cornerstones of extracurricular involvement on our campus…

Why Pete Buttigieg: Empowering Black Americans

The Douglass Plan

Visit PeteForAmerica.com to read the Douglass Plan or read the white paper here.

Chike Aguh, policy advisor

Portia Allen Kyle, policy advisor

Angela Angel, Black Engagement Director

Arielle M. Brandy, Indiana State Director

Tiffany James, South Carolina Deputy Director

An Ally to the People

Beyond the Douglass Plan, Pete Buttigieg has time and again proven himself a compassionate and trusted ally to the Black community.

Jarvis Houston, South Carolina Director

Watch the full video here.


Aesha gave permission to her friend Kenny to edit her videos.

“The Buttigieg campaign feels more like a movement than a typical campaign”

by Constance Bair-Thompson – Oct 26, 2019 (Medium.com, abridged)

I have said for a while that the Buttigieg campaign feels more like a movement than a typical campaign.

Pete’s policies are all beautifully interconnected in a holistic way — seeking to get at the root causes of some of the most intractable issues facing our country. Like his policies, my experience volunteering in many different ways to help propel this amazing candidate to the Presidency has made me realize how inter-connected we as Americans are and how it will take all of us to come together and do the work to make our country that more perfect union described in the preamble to the Constitution — regardless of what happens in this election.

Volunteering for Pete has also connected me to so many wonderful, smart, talented and kind people I would never have known otherwise. They are all fierce and effective advocates for our chosen candidate and are undoubtedly people I will remain connected to long after the dust settles the day after election day in November 2020.

[read in full at Medium.com]