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Swiss school basks in John Kerry limelight

The school is housed in old hotel buildings

(swissinfo.ch)

The “Institut Montana” has changed little since the United States Democratic presidential frontrunner, John Kerry, attended the school exactly 50 years ago.

And now the boarding school high on the hill above the town of Zug is hoping to reap dividends from the Kerry effect.

The Montana has been inundated with calls from the media over the past few weeks, all wanting to learn more about Kerry’s one-year stay at the school.

Kerry’s file - kept in a plain manila folder bearing the number 2587 – contains his school reports and reveals that he was top of the class in most subjects.

“[His reports] look very impressive - even by our high standards,” says Daniel Fridez, director of the Montana.

“Here is a mid-term report written by the dean which says he was the best student of the elementary school,” he told swissinfo.

School records

Kerry’s file now contains a selection of newspaper clippings which have appeared over the past few weeks about the school and its most famous student.

“This is the most sought-after [school] document from the past 50 years,” says Fridez, pointing to a copy of the school newspaper from December 1954.

Inside, an 11-year-old Kerry describes a trip to Zurich with the school’s other American students to celebrate Thanksgiving.

As the older boys “browsed around bookstores”, Kerry and his classmates roamed through “an ancient weapons museum and the city zoo”.

They then met at the railway station for a “delicious dinner plus Coca-Colas (which we had to pay for ourselves)”.

“Kerry effect”

“It would be fantastic if we would have lots of Americans coming here because of the Kerry effect,” says Fridez.

If the Kerry name does work wonders, new students will discover a place that has changed little over the past five decades.

The Montana complex consists of former 19th century hotel buildings and a large wooden chalet with a commanding view over Lake Zug and the central Swiss Alps.

It shares the Zugerberg hilltop with a small dairy farm and in winter boasts an outdoor ice hockey rink, ski lift and cross-country trail.

Traditional values

But more important than the setting, argues Fridez, are the “traditional values” the school still teaches, which include “being open to the world, respecting others, and learning how to take responsibility for one’s self”.

He says it is these qualities which prepare Montana’s students for positions of leadership and authority.

“The school has given me an international perspective,” agrees 18-year-old American student Fred Schmidt, after attending a history lesson with teenagers from about a dozen nations.

“You have people from all over the world here. There are students from different cultures with different beliefs,” he continues.

“You have to find a way to retain your individuality, but also to get along with everyone else and understand where they come from. I think that’s a great stepping stone if you want to become a high-ranking official like John Kerry.”

First choice

When his parents gave him the choice of going to a boarding school in the US or Europe, Schmidt chose the latter.

“It’s a great place to be, especially Switzerland,” he says, adding that politicians could learn from the Swiss model as he is doing, and as Kerry did before him.

“Obviously the American government can’t be neutral, but it can learn how a multicultural country gets along in the world, respecting the rights of other nations.”

Kevin O’Brien, dean of Montana’s international section, says students are talking more about politics as a result of Kerry’s success in the Democratic primaries.

“The kids have always liked to discuss politics and I think with John Kerry there’s been an increased interest,” he says.

“I think everybody wants to see a former Montana student as the next president. That would be very good for us.”

Schmidt sums up the mood and air of excitement at the school ahead of November’s presidential election.

“Look where Kerry is now, he could be president,” he says, “and he went to school here!”

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Zug

Key facts

John Kerry is a graduate of Yale University and served with the US Navy during the Vietnam War.
He has represented the state of Massachusetts in the US Senate since 1984.
He is the leading contender for the Democratic nomination, having won 15 out of 17 local contests.

end of infobox

In brief

The Institut Montana was founded in 1926 as a private boarding school for boys.

John Kerry attended in 1954 when his father served in the diplomatic service in Berlin.

Today, more than 200 students (boys and girls) from 42 nations are enrolled.

The children of European royalty have been educated at the Institut Montana, as well as the offspring of the Rothschild and Bacardi families.

end of infobox

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