By Samantha Hayes, April 1, 2008
Before introducing his friend and former classmate, Edward Pritchard, Jr. called John McCain a man of character, decency, and courage.
He also said McCain, at the end of his freshman year at Episcopal High School, earned the designation of "worst rat." The story behind that title is not often told. I heard it today in the covered track facility of McCain's alma mater. His stop in Alexandria, Virginia today is part of his campaign's desire for voters to get to know McCain better before the general election in November.
Pritchard told the student audience that Episcopal used to be an all boys institution that drew partly on the tradition of military schools. Students in the freshman class were called "rats" and had to endure mild hazing. But according to Pritchard, McCain wouldn't go along with that system and piled up demerits because of it.
When McCain took the podium he told the rest of the story. He worked off some of those demerits under the tutelage of a man who would become one of his most important mentors, William B. Ravenel. Ravenel was an English teacher and football coach at the school. He was also a WWII veteran. McCain has written about Ravenel in his memoir, "Faith of my Fathers," and said today that his influence was more important than any person outside of my family and that Ravenel was "one of the best men I have even known."
When McCain returned from Vietnam, where he survived as a prisoner of war, he said Ravenel was the first person he wanted to see urgently aside from his family. Unfortunately, Ravenel had died two years earlier.
After his speech, McCain answered questions from students in the audience. A young woman sitting up high in one of the bleachers asked McCain if he ever thought as a student at Episcopal that he would, one day, be running for President. The question prompted a classic straight-talk response from the Senator. "No." he said to a round of laughter. "My ambition was always to be a navy pilot." It was after he returned from Vietnam, McCain said, that he gradually became interested in politics.
As for his interest in the Presidency, even his former classmates marveled at McCain's stick to it attitude. After a disappointing run in 2000 and a hard-fought round of primaries at the beginning of this year, McCain is closer than he's ever been to the White House. While he has already been honored by Episcopal High School for many accomplishments, becoming the President of The United States would probably take the cake.