Barack Obama went Hawaiian casual at Occidental College in L.A.
It was around 1980. Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” might have been heard playing in the quad, as two college students ambled across the Occidental campus. They were in no hurry. “We were going to a concert or an art festival. We were culture and music hounds,” says Eric B. Moore, who photographed then-college freshman Barack Obama, looking inarguably cool in an aloha shirt as he stared down the distance. “That might have been one of his better shirts. He was always in T-shirts, shorts and thongs. I don’t think he had a pair of closed-toe shoes.”
Obama’s stay at the low-key, liberal arts college in Eagle Rock lasted just two school years -- from 1979 to 1981. (He later transferred to Columbia University, where he surely ditched the flip-flops.) At Oxy, he played junior varsity basketball and honored his homeland by eating Hawaiian-style pizza at the storied local parlor, Casa Bianca. But it wasn’t the slacker dress code or the proximity to the ocean that brought him here. In his 1995 autobiography “Dreams From My Father,” Obama says he enrolled at Occidental “mainly because I’d met a girl from Brentwood while she was vacationing in Hawaii.”
Even back then, Moore says, the president-elect had a presence but wasn’t pompous: “He was down to earth and affable and very warm. A casual guy.” The two liked to listen to lots of jazz and musicians like Earth, Wind & Fire and Bob Marley -- a typical day-to-day soundtrack for a thoughtful teen during that time. “It’s surreal to know that he is now the leader of the free world,” says Moore, a senior vice president at Transwestern who will be attending the inauguration. “I just know him to be that great guy from college.”