By Jake Shore
A common anecdote comes to the minds of President Donald Trump’s former classmates when asked about their interactions with him during his time at Fordham University. A commuting student for two years, Trump would later transfer to the University of Pennsylvania to finish his degree.
When students commuted to school together from Queens to Fordham’s Bronx campus in 1965, the custom was to take turns paying the $0.25 toll across the Triboro Bridge, according to two alumni. At Fordham, Roger Gedgard was the closest friend of Donald Trump, the Queens-native and son of real estate magnate. The two often commuted together, according to John Malnati, GSB ’68.
Malnati knew Trump well via Gedgard, as a group of them used to get lunch every day. The punchline of Gedgard’s weekly commutes with Trump was how Gedgard, from a working class background, always seemed to foot the bridge toll for the millionaire’s son.
“They’d go across the bridge, and Roger paid the toll everyday,” said Malnati.
Another alumnus and Queens commuter, Raymond Lustig, FCRH ’68, knew that story. He said Trump did the same thing with other students he would commute with.
“Whenever they got to the toll booth . . . Trump would rattle his pockets and then claim not to have the necessary $0.25,” Lustig said.
President Donald J. Trump has come a long way from his commuting days in Queens. As a presidential candidate —and now as commander-in-chief of the United States —Trump often touted his standing as a business graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, in 1968, but usually omits his first two years studying economics at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus.
In interviews with more than 60 alumni, a picture emerges of what the current president was like during his time at Fordham. Of those interviewed, many remembered him fondly and many more did not remember him at all.
The consensus among friends, acquaintances and observers of Donald Trump described him as an athletic and affable young man, even if he did keep his distance from other students. Most knew “the Donald” from classes, playing golf or other sports with him or commuting to school. Few could be considered a close friend of his at Fordham other than Gedgard, who is since deceased.
Brian Fitzgibbon, GSB ’68, said he was friendly but not friends with Trump. They both commuted from the same area, and they would say hello whenever they bumped into one another.
“He was a bit of a loner all those years ago and I really can’t recall his being close with anyone,” said Fitzgibbon. “He complained to me on one of our rides to school that there were too many Italian and Irish students at Fordham. He wanted me to know that I was excluded from that comment.”
A number of alumni admired Trump’s abilities in sports. Trump was on the squash team during his freshman year, according to interviews with alumni and a 1965 copy of the Maroon Yearbook. Alumni also said he was a force to be reckoned with in intramural football, but he never played for the school’s team.
Bob McMahon, GSB ’68, considered himself a friend of Trump’s as they both commuted from Queens. He told a story about how stunned he was when him and his friends first asked Trump to play football on Edward’s parade with them, and he was able to punt the ball “fifty yards in the air while wearing loafers.”
“We were always begging Donald to play with us,” said McMahon.
McMahon said Trump also got his first taste for the game of golf while attending Fordham, claiming he was with the future-president when he made his first hole-in-one.
During Trump’s time at both Fordham and UPenn, young men were drafted to fight in the Vietnam War, with exceptions for students and the injured. Trump was not conscripted into the military in order to continue his education, a normal deferment for college students at the time. He also avoided the draft after graduating college because of “bone spurs” in his heels.
Before arriving at Fordham, Trump attended New York Military Academy where he was named a captain in his senior year. He continued his military streak by joining ROTC during his freshman year, according to Malnati.
Malnati said Trump enjoyed ROTC at Fordham during his freshman year but quit during his sophomore year. How memorable Trump’s time in ROTC was remains a question.
Samuel Mok, GSB ‘68, participated in ROTC all throughout college and served in the army for five years after. Mok said he had “no recollection of Donald Trump being part of it at all,” but he also said that might have had to do with the fact that he was “the only non-white cadet then and all other guys look quite the same.”
By their second year, members of Fordham’s ROTC club must commit at least two years to military service after graduation, according to Mok, something Malnati said Trump did not want to do.
“All he said was, ‘I decided to leave,’” said Malnati. “He knew that all of those guys in ROTC would end up over there [in Vietnam].”
Malnati, a friend of Trump’s, said he was not surprised that Trump opted out of military service but understood why he did it. An unpopular war and mandatory service meant a lot of students were looking for a way out. In 1966, 382,010 men were drafted into the Army, which was the highest number at any point of the Vietnam war, according to the U.S. Selective Service System.
Trump had strong opinions in class and was never afraid to speak up, according to many of his acquaintances.
“My recollection is that Donald was a bright student and one who did not hesitate giving his opinion,” said David Coldrick, GSB ’68, who had class and played golf with Trump often.
Stephen Bishop, GSB ’68, said he was impressed by Trump’s classroom presence. He said Trump’s attire often sharply contrasted with other students, even though all male students at the time were required to wear a collared shirt, jacket and tie.
“He always wore a suit,” said Bishop. Another former classmate, Bob Sirhal, GSB ’68, remembered how “he wore ‘slick’ suits.”
Despite his trappings and background in the wealth of New York real estate, many alumni said Trump was easy to relate to. They said Trump’s relationship with Gedgard, a man from a working-class background, was a testament to his affability.
“Roger Gedgard . . . frequently carried on conversations with Donald about sports,” said James Short, GSB ’68. “Roger was a very enthusiastic sports fan —just a regular guy, from modest means like many of us. Yet, Donald was very engaging and enjoyed those conversations —no airs about him.”
Trump did not seem to make much of a foothold at the school or in the memories of alumni, despite his golf outings, involvement in school sports and trips commuting with other students. Many alumni said it was difficult to accurately remember a two-year student from nearly 50 years ago, or that they had only heard he attended Fordham once he announced his candidacy for president in 2015.
But after sending out more than 150 emails to alumni who attended Fordham at the same time as Trump, many alumni took efforts to convince The Ram that Trump did not even attend the school (he did).
Bob Howe, director of communications for the university, said Fordham has no statement regarding President Trump’s time at the school. The White House press office did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump was unsatisfied with his time at Fordham, according to some of his former classmates. Many said Trump wanted to pursue a real estate program, which Fordham did not offer at the time. Moreover, they said Trump’s mind was on bigger and better things.
“I think Donald wanted to say he went to an Ivy league school,” said Malnati.
Trump’s grades were about in the “C+” range, according to Malnati, who said they all shared their report cards with one another, including Trump’s.
McMahon, another Trump friend, said he was in the “B” range.
In a book on the Trump family, biographer Gwenda Blair wrote that Donald Trump may have received admission into the University of Pennsylvania by having a family connection to the admissions officer. Interviewed alumni said his departure from Fordham was unannounced and unremarkable.
“Donald was not overly friendly or should we say . . . he had other things on his mind,” said Malnati. “Matter of fact, he never told anybody that he was transferring to Penn.”
Winning the presidency was just as surprising as his departure to some.
“I never expected Trump to become president,” said McMahon. “I never expected anyone from Fordham to become president.”