From James Madison to George Washington

While many will look ahead toward new leadership at GW with about a year left of a Stephen Joel Trachtenberg presidency, some will find themselves looking back, examining who exactly this man was who reshaped the character and reputation of the University – and how he got to where he did.

Anyone asking Trachtenberg about the greatest factors affecting his formative years would hear mention of one particular influence: James Madison High School. A 1955 graduate of the public secondary school in Brooklyn, N.Y., he has credited the institution with providing him a strong educational background that helped shape his future.

“James Madison was, and from what I can tell, is a splendid school, and I owe much to the teachers who educated me there,” Trachtenberg said in a letter to the editor published in The New York Times in June 1993. “I am honored to be counted among the noted alumni of James Madison.”

Unlike his unequaled position in the GW community for the past two decades, Trachtenberg is just one duck in the very large pond of world-renowned James Madison alumni.

Having hundreds of former students attaining notability, the James Madison Alumni Association prides itself in naming graduates who went on to become Nobel Prize winners, senators, court justices and entertainment icons. Diploma-holders of the high school range from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.); from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to International Court Justice Steven Schwebel; from the brash “Judge” Judy Scheindlin to Stanley Kaplan, the developer of his eponymous SAT preparation company.

What makes James Madison so unique in having such successful alumni? Its current principal, Joseph Gogliormella, said it’s diversity.

“Madison is a lot like Brooklyn,” Gogliormella said in a Gannett news story in August 2005. “It’s provincial, yet at the same time worldly. It has a great small-town feeling, but it’s very diverse with a real mix of cultures and a global perspective. Once you’ve experienced Brooklyn and Madison, you’re ready for anything.”

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