Perhaps the biggest reason for this shroud of mystery is Penn itself; the school’s sphinx-like reticence about its most famous alumnus plays at times like a silent scream. For instance, Penn has never had Trump deliver a commencement speech or conferred an honorary degree on him.
Because Philadelphia deserve answers, and because I’ve made a career out of lost causes and thankless jobs, I went on a hunt for the facts. During an interview at his apartment on Washington Square, Nolan told me he spent a lot of time in those days at the Trump Mansion in Jamaica Estates, which he described as “very big, with lots of bedrooms” and blackface lawn jockeys lining the approach.
This was first revealed in Glenda Blair’s book The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire (Simon & Schuster, 2000). Both the head of transfer student admissions and the vice dean reviewed Trump ’s application and Nolan’s interview notes before giving final approval.
Now 80, Nolan says he found “no evidence” of Trump ’s alleged “super genius” at the time. “I wish I hadn’t interviewed him,” he says, breaking into the deep belly laugh of a man who knows that at his age, nothing he says can possibly hurt him.
“He must have told me that 100 times over the course of 30 years,” says Diploma, who has been practicing law since 1963 and has served as in-house counsel for entities including the Federal Trade Commission and Playboy Enterprises. “I remember the inflection of his voice when he said it: ‘ Donald Trump was the dumbest goddamn student I ever had!’” He would say that came to Wharton thinking he already knew everything, that he was arrogant, and he wasn’t there to learn.” Kelley, who passed away in 2011 at age 94, taught marketing at Wharton for 31 years, retiring in 1982.
As Trump admitted in The Art of the Deal, all he got out of Wharton was bragging rights: “In my opinion, that degree doesn’t prove very much, but a lot of people I do business with take it very seriously, and it’s considered very prestigious. Despite his braggadocio, Trump appears to have left no substantive mark in the collective memory of his graduating class.
For an article titled “Many of Trump ’s Wharton Classmates Don’t Remember Him,” the DP contacted 269 of his fellow matriculates. Seventy-four responded; 68 said they had “never encountered Trump at Penn.” “ Wharton was a pretty small community back then … you knew everyone.
“I knew him and I liked him, and most of the people I went to school with didn’t know him and don’t like him,” says Ted Sachs, who sat next to the future president in corporate finance and went on to a prosperous career in the financial sector. Prior to flunking out in 1965, Ms. Bergen was the It Girl at Penn, elected both Homecoming Queen and Miss University.
Her proto-screen-siren star power was apparently visible in the night sky from as far away as New York, because one evening, the phone in her dorm rang, and on the other end was one Donald Trump, PRE- Wharton. … ” She stressed that there was no kiss, “no physical contact whatsoever.” Within a year, Ms. Bergen, who politely declined to participate in this article, was a movie star on track for a storied career and never looked back.
This assertion appeared in a fawning New York Times profile of the Trump Organization published in 1973, the same year the Department of Justice sued Donald and his father Fred for housing discrimination for refusing to rent to people of color. Donald, who was graduated first in his class from the Wharton School of Finance of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968, joined his father about five years ago.
Noting that practically every article ever written about Trump in the wake of the Times profiles parroted the “first in his class” claim, the Times finally corrected the record in yet another eye-roll-inducing profile published in 1984 (“Spending a day with Donald Trump is like driving a Ferrari without the windshield. It’s exhilarating; he gets a few bugs in his teeth”), declaring that the notion that Trump finished first in his class at Wharton was contradicted by the university’s commencement program.
Given that colleges and universities are prohibited by law from releasing transcripts to anyone other than the student in question, and that Trump has purportedly forbidden the school to do so, we’ll have to rely on proof by omission that Trump didn’t graduate with any academic distinction whatsoever. Trump himself finally copped to this in a 1988 New York Magazine story written by Julie Baum gold.
That’s the story recounted in a November 3rd, 2016, Facebook post by Don Jr.’s former classmate Scott Milker: I walked out of the room to find Donald Trump at his son’s door, there to pick him up for a baseball game.
Another 2004 Wharton graduate, Roman Galas, told the DP that he “saw her at Smokes’ once, sitting across from me at the bar, sipping her drink peacefully and gracefully.” She was occasionally spotted at White Dog Café and La Terrassa as well as in Rittenhouse Square. A rumor made the rounds on campus that a breakup drove her from Georgetown to Penn midstream, but she denied it in a 2004 Philadelphia profile in which she described her life at Penn as “hermetic” and was characterized as more likely to binge-watch Law & Order than to trip the light fandango on the beer-sticky dance floors of the frat-party circuit.
In 2012, Tiffany arrived at Penn on the heels of a brief but doomed bid at autotuned pop stardom (google “Tiffany Trump and “Like A Bird” if you’re feeling sinister), as her father was waging his notoriously racist birther fake-news campaign. According to unnamed sources interviewed by Vanity Fair, she was rebuffed in efforts to join Ta bard, “a secret society that offers its members an exclusive social network,” out of fear that a scion of the toxic Trump family tree might drive away the swells.
Her alleged billionaire father reportedly kept her on a short leash, doling out a miserly $500-a-month allowance. One party boy who insisted on anonymity summed up the scene to me thus: “You’re looking at Tiff Trump passing a joint to me, and I’m passing it to a kid who grabs it while wearing a $38,000 rose gold Patel Philippe watch and then, you know, accidentally drops the joint into his cheap red cup filled with Grey Goose.
School officials have refused to comment on Trump since he declared his candidacy, even declining to address basic facts about his history there. As of Tuesday evening, that site was predicting that Trump would receive 46.9 percent of the two-party popular vote.
The Boston Globe interviewed a number of his classmates and concluded that Trump “spoke up a lot but rarely shined in class” and “barely participated in campus activities.” He drove a green convertible and used aliases to buy and flip properties in the city. It’s unclear what Trump took away from his time at Wharton, besides a sense of validation from being included in a group of “the smartest people.” He told the Globe that “one of the things it does is it gives you confidence...
When you come out, you feel good about yourself.” (In a speech at last month’s Republican National Convention, his eldest son, Donald Jr., himself a Wharton graduate, said that Trump always hung out with the guys on construction sites and “valued their opinions as much, and often more, than the guys from Harvard and Wharton, locked away in offices away from the real work.” The anti-elitist swipe at the school was unexpected, to say the least, since Trump ’s constant boasting about his Wharton education is explicitly elitist.) A Penn professor of education, John L. Puckett, recently co-wrote a history of the university and found no trace of Donald Trump in his research.
Alternatively, maybe the university doesn’t want to burn bridges with a potential large donor (though Trump has never given any significant amount). For years now, the school has been struggling to shed its reputation as a training ground for Wall Street.
“The outside world still pictures Wharton as churning out Wall Street tycoons like Gordon Gecko.” (Grant didn’t respond to my emails for this story, and his book publicist declined to make him available for an interview.) “Many schools also strengthened their ties to hot technology companies.” In 2013, Harvard, Stanford and Columbia all saw their numbers of student applications rise.
One day in July, I called the journalist and author Buzz Kissinger, who teaches advanced nonfiction writing at Penn and earned his bachelor’s there. I saw Wharton undergrads who are really, really smart kids cheat their way to the top and later get caught when they were out in the world when they were brokers.
Kissinger said his students tell him they often feel like second-class citizens; they worry that the liberal arts get the short end of the stick at Penn because Wharton hoovers up so much money and prestige. “But I still think that the basic prevailing sentiment of Wharton is to teach kids to make money, and they do a damn good job of it.
To the degree that Trump has been financially successful, “sure, that’s admirable,” says Michael Plant, a neuroscientist with multiple Penn appointments, including one at Wharton. New Wharton : The current dean, Geoffrey Garrett, an Australian political economist, keeps a signed photo of Jimi Hendrix in his office, and writes on his LinkedIn page that he’s “really worried by the anti-immigrant sentiment in contemporary American politics,” because immigration is the “secret sauce” that drives U.S. innovation.
Wharton's students still tend to be “generally more convinced of capitalism working as a market than our peers at Williams or something,” says Faustus Do, who graduated with dual degrees in May and is moving to Boston to work in the finance industry. About as many of the school’s MBA's end up working for tech companies as they do investment banks, following the lead of alumni like Elon Musk of SpaceX and Sunday Richie of Google immigrants who studied business at Wharton and went on to lead billion-dollar empires in Silicon Valley.
Compared to those guys, Trump is an atavist, a man of real estate and the plastic ecstasies of cable news: the Gordon Gecko of the attention economy,” to use Laurie Penny ’s phrase. We can’t be silent with that form of discrimination.” Without commenting on Trump directly, various Penn leaders have found ways to signal their displeasure with the candidate.
At the beginning of each semester, the Daily Pennsylvanian staff meets with university President Amy Gunman. While Gunman made it clear she wouldn’t “stoop to the level” of commenting on specific political statements, she did say that discrimination against Muslims is “invidious,” adding, Not only is it not called for and disgraceful, but it’s also unconstitutional.” According to a Wharton source, Garrett, the school’s dean, has made it clear at internal meetings that Trump is not speaking for Wharton.
And Do remembers a moment from one of his Wharton classes this spring, when his professor led a discussion on the economics of immigration policy. Toward the end of class, as students were closing their laptops, the professor mentioned Trump, saying that with a presidential candidate sowing xenophobia and racism, “we have a duty to speak out against it.
Since then, more than 3,800 members of the Wharton community have signed the letter, including students, alumni and at least five current professors.