He was an A student who loved history and geography and would practice the way African leaders' names were pronounced by following the newscasts of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. He gave the valedictory address at high school and graduated summa cum laude from Yale, where he majored in history.

To his eventual embarrassment, he wrote in his Yale application:

"As always, whitey now sits in judgment of me, preparing to cast my fate. It is your decision either to let me blow with the wind as a nonentity or to encourage the development of self. Allow me to prove myself."