Barack Obama Sr. was awarded a joint scholarship by Kenyan-based Airlift Africa Project and the
African-American Students Foundation, which led to him enrolling in the University of Hawaii in
Honolulu in the fall of 1959 to pursue a degree in Economics. Free-spirited Wichita-born Stanley
Ann Dunham enrolled there several months earlier, pursuing a Mathematics degree.
As luck would have it, both the 23-year old Obama Sr. and the 17-year Dunham signed up for the same
basic Russian language class for some extra credits. The pair met, and romance blossomed. A few
months later, Dunham moved into Obama Sr.’s rented unit at 625 11th Ave Honolulu, and
President Barack Obama was conceived here sometime in early December 1960.
625 11th Ave Honolulu
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Dunham, already a scandalous figure in the community owing to her relationship with Obama Sr.,
dropped out of the university after learning of her pregnancy. The couple wedded a little over a
month later on Groundhog Day in the small coastal town of Wailuku in Maui. Barack Hussein Obama II
was born half a year later on August 4, 1961. But the marriage proved to be a short- lived affair
after Dunham discovered that Obama Sr. hid about an earlier marriage, and an existing wife in his
homeland Kenya. Their relationship broke down irretrievably.
A heartbroken Dunham, with the one-month old Obama Jr. in tow, moved to Seattle and attended a
program at the University of Washington. She stayed in a rented apartment there, juggling baby
Obama with her studies. Meanwhile, back in Hawaii, Obama Sr. graduated and was quickly offered
another scholarship, this time by Harvard, to pursue a Ph.D. in Economics. He left in September
1962, just missing Dunham’s return, who moved in back with her parents. Not much is known of
their life in the next two years, beyond the fact that Dunham’s parents, Stanley and Madelyn
Lee, proved to be doting grandparents to the young Obama. With the support of her parents, Dunham
re-enrolled in the University of Hawaii to pursue a degree in Cultural Anthropology. She filed for
divorce in January 1964, and Obama Sr. did not contest it.
Stanley with ObamaDuring her free time, Dunham began spending time in the new East-West Center campus,
a Congress-funded initiative designed to forge and build relationships between the American
academic and professional community and their Asian counterparts. It was here, in the
Center’s 21-acre, six building compound, located adjacent to the University of Hawaii, that
Dunham met and subsequently fell in love with, Lolo Soetoro.
Soetoro, a 29-year old government-sponsored Indonesian student, was in the third year of his
Geography degree. The couple dated, and was married on March 15, 1965, in a civil ceremony in
Molokai. Dunham and the young Obama, affectionately called Barry by his family, moved into
Soetoro’s rented house at 3326 Oahu Avenue in Upper Manoa.
Soetoro, after obtaining his degree, returned to Indonesia in 1966. Dunham graduated in 1967 and
promptly moved to Indonesia with six-year old Obama to join her husband. Soetoro’s early
employment remains a source of contention, although the most popularly accepted theory was either
as a Surveyor or Colonel with the Indonesian Army. However, based on several passages from
President Obama’s 1995 bestseller, Dreams of My Father, the latter seems more likely.
Dreams of My Father, page 25
I noticed a series of indented scars that ran from his
ankle halfway up his shin.
“What are those?”
“Leech marks,” he said. “From when I was in New Guinea. They crawl inside your army boots
while you’re hiking through the swamps. At night, when you take off your socks, they’re stuck
there, fat with blood. You sprinkle salt on them and they die, but you still have to dig them out
with a hot knife.”….
I asked Lolo if it had hurt. “Of course it hurt,” he said, taking a sip from the jug.
“Sometimes you can’t worry about hurt. Sometimes you worry only about getting where you have to
“Have you ever seen a man killed?” I asked him. He glanced down, surprised by the question.
“Have you?” I asked again.Dreams of My Father, page 27
“Yes,” he said.
“Was it bloody?”
I thought for a moment. “Why was the man killed? The one you saw?”
“Because he was weak.”
Lolo shrugged and rolled his pant leg back down. “That’s usually enough. Men take advantage of
weakness in other men. They’re just like countries in that way. The strong man takes the weak
man’s land. He makes the weak man work in his fields. If the weak man’s woman is pretty, the
strong man will take her.” He paused to take another sip of water, then asked, “Which would you
I didn’t answer, and Lolo squinted up at the sky. “Better to be strong,” he said finally,
rising to his feet. “If you can’t be strong, be clever and make peace with someone who’s
strong. But always better to be strong yourself. Always.”
"Still, something had happened between her and Lolo in the year that they had been
apart. In Hawaii he had been so full of life, so eager with his plans. At night when they were
alone, he would tell her about growing up as a boy during the war, watching his father and eldest
brother leave to join the revolutionary army, hearing the news that both had been killed and
everything lost, the Dutch army’s setting their house aflame, their flight into the countryside,
his mother’s selling her gold jewelry a piece at a time in exchange for food. Things would be
changing now that the Dutch had been driven out, Lolo had told her; he would return and teach at the
university, be a part of that change.Much later in the book, Obama would recount his experiences living in Indonesia, a
chapter in his life that profoundly affected both him and his mother. More importantly, he began to
understand the naiveté of his mother, of her habit of only seeing the best in everyone and of her
constant battle for acceptance.
He didn’t talk that way anymore. In fact, it seemed as though he barely spoke to her at all, only
out of necessity or when spoken to, and even then only of the task at hand, repairing a leak or
planning a trip to visit some distant cousin. It was as if he had pulled into some dark hidden
place, out of reach, taking with him the brightest part of himself. On some nights, she would hear
him up after everyone else had gone to bed, wandering through the house with a bottle of imported
whiskey, nursing his secrets. Other nights he would tuck a pistol under his pillow before falling
off to sleep. Whenever she asked him what was wrong, he would gently rebuff her, saying he was just
Obama spent his first three years of primary school in SD Fransiscus Asisi (St. Francis of Asisi),
a Catholic school under the auspices of the St. Francis of Asisi Church in Jakarta.
A statue of
young Obama in front of SD Franciscus Asisi in JakartaThree years later, with the help of his brother, Soetoro
managed to secure a job with Mobil Oil Co, as an executive in their government relations office.
The family moved to a new house near Central Jakarta, and Obama was transferred to the nearby
government-run Menteng State Elementary School for the next year and a half. Dunham also found a
new job as the Director of the Indonesian Institute of Management, Education and Development.
On August 15, 1970, Dunham gave birth to Maya Kassandra Soetoro, and life appeared to be perfect
for the young family.
However, Dunham began to have reservations about the education of his son. Despite the daily
three-hour early-morning tutoring she gave Obama, she feared that her son will lose his identity
and culture growing up in a foreign land. And thus, in 1971, Dunham decided to send Obama back to
Hawaii to live with his grandparents.
Obama, with his 9th grade class in 1976The ten-year old Obama returned to Hawaii in the
summer of 1971 into the eagerly awaiting embrace of his grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn. They
promptly enrolled him into the Punahou School, one of the top private schools in Hawaii, where he
will stay until graduation eight years later. His schoolmates at the time included AOL founder
Steve Case and Hollywood actress, Kelly Preston.
Young Obama received a surprise several months later when his biological father, Obama Sr., came to
visit. The older Obama took his son to a jazz concert, featuring the legendary jazz pianist, David
Brubeck. It proved to be the first and only time they would meet. Obama Sr. would pass away eleven
years later in a car crash.
Obama Sr. and Obama Jr.His mother returned to Hawaii the following year with his
half-sister Maya after obtaining a scholarship to pursue an M.A in Anthropology from the University
of Hawaii. She graduated three years later, and planned on bringing Obama back with her to
Indonesia. However, Obama chose to stay behind with his grandparents and finish high school at
Punahou. Dunham returned again two years later to complete her Ph.D, and once again, Obama declined
to follow her when she returned to Indonesia in 1978.
Obama was a respected and well-liked student in his school. He played as a forward in the
school’s basketball team and won the 1979 State Championship. He was in the Choir Club and
became one of the editors of the school magazine. Outside the school, Obama was an avid surfer, a
fan of jazz and loves fishing. His former homeroom teacher, Eric Kusunoki, remarked in an interview
28 years later, “I knew he would do well. He was very gifted, and I knew he'd do great
things." Years later, Obama would admit to experimenting with drugs and consuming alcohol
as a high schooler. He graduated in 1979, and his journey into adulthood officially began.
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