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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Georgetown Prep: A high school cesspool?

Georgetown Preparatory School Bethesda, Md. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

To the uninitiated, Georgetown Preparatory School feels less like a high school than a well-heeled liberal arts college. The 93-acre campus in a Maryland suburb of the nation’s capital boasts a state-of-the-art athletic center, a nine-hole golf course, and its own gift shop. Gardeners crisscross the grounds on carts.

This is where U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh spent most of his teen years. And exactly what happened one summer night during that time has become a question that threatens to unravel his chances of joining the nation’s highest court.

Multiple accounts from 1980s-era classmates depict an alcohol-soaked party culture among the close-knit network of single-sex, mostly Roman Catholic private schools in the country’s wealthiest state. At raucous house parties and drunken beach vacations, boys from Georgetown Prep and other all-male academies would meet up with students from nearby all-girl private schools like Stone Ridge, Holy Cross, Georgetown Visitation and the non-sectarian Holton-Arms School. Binge drinking was a routine part of the social scene, with minimal adult supervision.

California college professor Christine Blasey Ford, a 1984 graduate of Holton-Arms, has accused Kavanaugh, who graduated Georgetown Prep in 1983, of pinning her down in a locked bedroom and groping her during a drunken house party when she was about 15 and he was about 17.

As details of the allegation emerged, a video clip from a 2015 speech Kavanaugh made at Catholic University’s law school circulated online, prompting some to view the comments in a more disturbing context. In the speech, Kavanaugh referenced some old friends and jokingly referred to an unofficial motto at his alma mater.

“We had a good saying that we’ve held firm to, to this day, as the dean was reminding me before the talk, which is: ’What happens at Georgetown Prep, stays at Georgetown Prep.’” The remark drew chuckles from the audience. “That’s been a good thing for all of us, I think,” added Kavanaugh, who played varsity football and basketball.

Georgetown Prep has had notable graduates throughout its long history. But it’s likely never had a stretch of alumni achieving national prominence as it has during the Trump administration. The elite high school also graduated President Donald Trump’s other Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch, and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

Until this past week, when Ford’s story surfaced, there was little doubt that Kavanaugh would be similarly successful.

The allegation — which Kavanaugh denies — has drawn dueling responses from inside this privileged community, where many private school graduates keep in close contact, both personally and professionally.

Last week, 65 women who knew Kavanaugh then defended him in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee as someone who “always treated women with decency and respect.” Most of them had attended local all-girl high schools when Kavanaugh was at Georgetown Prep.

Hundreds of Holton-Arms alumnae dating back to 1967 countered with a letter stating that they believe Ford’s version and are grateful she came forward.

“Dr. Blasey Ford’s experience is all too consistent with stories we heard and lived while attending Holton. Many of us are survivors ourselves,” states that letter.

One of the most vivid descriptions of the social environment surrounding Georgetown Prep in the 1980s comes from another graduate — someone who, according to Ford’s account, was in the bedroom that night. She claims Kavanaugh’s classmate, Mark Judge, watched the attack; she says she only got away when Judge jumped on top of them, toppling them over.

Judge, a writer who has authored memoirs and written for conservative publications such as the Daily Caller, says he doesn’t remember any such party.

But his writings make it abundantly clear that heavy drinking was a routine part of the social fabric. In one of his works, he describes Georgetown Prep as “positively swimming in alcohol.”

Parts of Judge’s recollection appear to match up with Kavanaugh’s own yearbook entry. Judge writes that his senior class pledged to consume 100 kegs of beer. Kavanaugh’s yearbook page from his senior year contains the entry: “Keg City Club (Treasurer) — 100 Kegs or Bust.” One of his highlighted quotes is “Down the Hatch!”

Judge also details Beach Week, an annual drunken vacation of private school pals. Area private schools all finished the year a week earlier than the public schools. So the students — male and female — headed to Ocean City, Maryland, for what Judge describes as a non-stop party. Kavanaugh’s yearbook page describes himself as a member of the “Beach Week Ralph Club.”

Nowhere in his writings does Judge mention Kavanaugh’s name. But in his 1997 book “Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk,” he makes passing reference to someone with a strikingly similar name.

Judge writes that at one gathering of early 1980s-era Maryland teenagers, a girl asked him if he knew “Bart O’Kavanaugh,” saying she “heard he puked in someone’s car the other night.” Judge replies: “Yeah. He passed out on his way back from a party.”

An ex-girlfriend who has come to Kavanaugh’s defense, Maura Kane, told The Associated Press he never lost control when drinking at parties and never did anything that made her feel uncomfortable.

Kane said Kavanaugh “hung around with a group of guys that were maybe a little bit crazier than he was. He was one of the more responsible ones in the group.”

Megan Williams, who attended the now-defunct all-girls Immaculata Preparatory School and knew Kavanaugh socially, described him in similar terms — the steady one amid a hard-drinking clique.

“There were kids who did act kind of crazy,” Williams told the AP. “He just wasn’t that guy.”

Scott McCaleb, a Washington lawyer who has been a buddy of Kavanaugh’s since his Georgetown Prep days, said in an AP interview that he hung out with Kavanaugh “weekend after weekend” when they were teens. He didn’t characterize the youthful alcohol consumption as anything out of the ordinary, noting the drinking age was 18 at the time. He said Kavanaugh always treated his female peers with respect.

Referring to Judge’s portrayal of the teen scene at the time, he said: “To whatever portion Mark’s book represents fiction or his perceived reality I just don’t know.”

During Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings, Louisiana’s Republican Sen. John Kennedy asked him for a thumbnail sketch of his high school days: “What were you like? Did you ever get in trouble? Were you more of a John Boy Walton type or a Ferris Bueller type?”

Breaking out in laughter, along with much of the gallery, Kavanaugh skirted the question, saying he “loved sports,” ″worked hard” and “had a lot of friends.” When Kennedy gently pressed him about any “trouble” he may have gotten into, Kavanaugh quipped: “That’s encompassed under ‘the friends,’ I think.”

“That’s all I’m going to get out of you, I understand,” Kennedy said, dropping the issue.


McFadden reported from Baltimore. AP writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.


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