Romney’s seriousness as a student impressed many classmates, who considered him exceptionally well prepared and emblematic of the ambitious pre-law and business students in the English department. But his teacher’s pet persona rubbed some students the wrong way.
And yet even as Romney wrapped himself in the warm blue blanket of the BYU campus, its fabric frayed. He attended Brigham Young during its most volatile period, when protests over the war in Vietnam and outrage over the church ban on blacks in the Mormon priesthood had penetrated Provo and rattled a conservative enclave traditionally immune to discord. Liberals took over the student body leadership, and administration figures retaliated by organizing spy rings on activist students and sympathetic teachers.
Eventually, the great debates of the day intruded even at Brigham Young. In the fall of 1970, the student government president and others distributed a pamphlet encouraging opposition to the Vietnam conflict by quoting past Mormon leaders on the evils of war, stirring a predictable campus fury.
While eager to discuss national politics, he hung back from the ferment of the day, recoiling against the student unrest he saw in France and staying on the sidelines when protests broke out over Brigham Young’s all-white sports teams.
Instead, he settled comfortably into his studies on a campus so conservative that it banned most rock ’n’ roll bands, left-leaning speakers or student groups, long hair on men or bare shoulders or knees on women. By the time he graduated, headed for Harvard’s law and business schools, he was already a husband and a father.
When Mitt Romney returned from his Mormon mission in France, he did not return to Stanford University. Instead, he and Ann moved to Utah, and began attending Brigham Young University (BYU).
No matter what his true thinking was about putting his life on the line for his country, Romney's year at Stanford marked a critical transition in his life.
When he became an active participant in the defining debate of his generation, Romney set himself apart from the vast majority of students on campus who identified with neither the anti-Vietnam demonstrators nor the counter-protesters in those relatively early days of the war.
Mitt's own draft status was secure for the next few years. Although his friends would continue to benefit from the deferment for college students, Mitt had decided to leave Stanford after his freshman year and go on a 30-month mission to spread the Mormon faith overseas. It was the same path his father, and generations of Mormon men before him, had taken upon turning 19
By the time football season got under way, Stanford was a split-personality campus of tradition and revolution, and Mitt increasingly found himself caught in a world of which he knew little, about as far from his cloistered Cranbrook School and strict Mormon upbringing as he could get.
In the fall of 1965, Mitt Romney left behind Cranbrook, with its varsity sweaters and hand-delivered courtship letters, and moved across the country to San Francisco's Bay Area, which was fast becoming the capital of the counter-culture movement. By the time he settled into his freshman dorm at Stanford University, the nearby campus of the University of California-Berkeley had been fully radicalized by the anti-authority Free Speech Movement.