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Huntsman, Jr. arrived at Penn in 1985 — to the complete surprise of many the 1987 College graduates that The Daily Pennsylvanian interviewed.

Photo: File Photo / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Jon Huntsman Jr., the 1987 College graduate whose father’s name adorns the headquarters of The Wharton School, will continue his unbroken streak of service to six presidents when he is formally nominated to be the United States Ambassador to Russia in a few weeks.

Huntsman’s educational trajectory, however, has been less consistent.

Little is known about Huntsman’s short time spent at Penn, despite his father’s famous name. There is also conflicting evidence about his activities before arriving on campus. After spending some time at the University of Utah, Huntsman eventually earned his bachelor of arts in political science with a concentration in international politics at Penn when he was 27 — by which time, he was already married and a father of two children, with a third on the way.

Huntsman’s name is listed only in the 1985-1986 and 1986-1987 student directories, the latter of which lists his school address as apartment 909 in 2400 Chestnut Street, the same luxury apartment building that stands there today. In the 1985-1986 directory, only his Utah home address is listed.

The fact that Huntsman eventually joined the Class of 1985 came as a surprise to many of the more than 100 of his classmates The Daily Pennsylvanian reached out to.

Most of these alumni were international relations or political science majors, and a handful were Sigma Chi brothers, a fraternity that Huntsman was a part of while a student at the University of Utah. He is not listed as a member of Sigma Chi in Penn’s 1987 yearbook, and none of the brothers who responded recall knowing him. Huntsman’s father, Jon Huntsman Sr., was an active member of Sigma Chi while an undergraduate at Wharton, and paid a visit to Penn’s Sigma Chi chapter in late 2014.

Only one of the members of the Class of 1987 contacted for this article, Jeffrey Brenner, now a partner at law firm Nixon Peabody, recalled knowing Huntsman, but not well enough to comment.

Another 1987 College graduate, Deanna Kaplan, did not know Huntsman, but knew his younger brother, David. She said in an email that his wife, Michelle, worked as her babysitter while she attended Penn Law School, and described them as “lovely people.”

The DP also reached out to formerly active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints frequented by Penn Mormons in the 1980s, located at 3913 Chestnut Street. Jonathan Stephenson, a 1975 College graduate and bishop who led the congregation from 1984 to 1989, recalled Huntsman being a regular attendee of the church. Huntsman and his wife Mary Katherine Huntsman, completed volunteer work for the church, Stephenson said, though he could not remember the nature of the work.

Stephenson added that he remembers Huntsman struggling to figure out the career he wanted to pursue and would often discuss potential paths with him. They went over many options, though the soon-to-be foreign ambassador had not decided on government service at the time.

By the time he was at Penn, Huntsman was fluent in Chinese, having picked it up during his Mormon mission trip. This was a skill that Huntsman was proud of and wanted to use, Stephenson said. True to form, Huntsman often highlighted his fluency in Chinese during his 2012 bid for the U.S. presidency.

When contacted for this story, Huntsman declined to comment, saying he wished to wait until after his formal nomination to speak to the DP.

Huntsman has had an illustrious career in foreign affairs. After serving as the U.S. ambassador to Singapore under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, he was appointed to be the deputy trade representative by President George W. Bush and later assumed the ambassadorship to China under President Barack Obama. In between his later diplomatic posts, he also served as governor of Utah from 2005-2009.

He has been outspoken on political issues in recent years, especially during the 2016 presidential campaign. After initially urging the Republican Party to unify around Trump, Huntsman called on the then-nominee to drop out of the race after a tape was released of Trump making sexually suggestive comments about women.

Prior to Penn, Huntsman left high school during his senior year to pursue a music career with his band called Wizard, according to a June 2011 profile of him in The Salt Lake Tribune. The band floundered, and in 1979, Huntsman went to Taiwan for two years on a Mormon mission trip.

There are conflicting reports about the timeline of his education after he returned from his trip. While CNN reports that Huntsman was at the University of Utah from 1978 to 1980, The Salt Lake Tribune’s profile on him from June 2011 states that he only attended college in Utah after returning from his mission trip in 1981. This second account seems more likely since Huntsman was on his missionary trip until 1981, and probably attended the University of Utah only after this trip ended.

Huntsman began his political career as a staff assistant to former President Ronald Reagan — once again, there are mixed reports from sources about the timeline of this position. The Dartmouth News and The New York Times state that he was a staff assistant in the White House in 1983, but CNN pinned him working there earlier from 1982 to 1983. According to the The Salt Lake Tribune, Huntsman helped plan a visit by President Reagan to Arizona, suggesting that he was on the president’s staff in 1982.

Outside of his presidential bid, Huntsman is known on campus for delivering the commencement address at Penn in 2010. In his speech, he referenced two Penn professors, Alvin Rubinstein and Allyn Rickett, whose lectures helped him to find his passion.

Rickett, now 95 and a professor emeritus in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, said in an emailed statement that he did not recall having Huntsman as a student. The University’s academic bulletin from 1985-1987, which includes a course directory, indicates that Huntsman probably took Rickett’s survey course called “East Asia,” which was about Japanese and Chinese society from prehistoric times to the present.

Rubinstein died in 2001. He taught in Penn’s Political Science Department, where he specialized in Russian foreign policy.

The DP contacted other political science and international relations professors from the 1980s, none of whom recall having Huntsman as a student.

Like the president he will soon begin to serve, Huntsman’s involvement with the University was most notable after he graduated. His father’s $40 million donation that would go towards building Huntsman Hall came in 1998, just over a decade after the younger Huntsman earned his degree.

Huntsman, Jr. became a University trustee from 1996 to 2001 and is now listed as a trustee emeritus. At a recent Board of Trustees meeting, he even cracked a joke at his future boss’s expense.

“I remember sitting in this meeting twenty years ago, and the great lament was, ‘We don’t have enough Penn people running for politics at the highest level,’” he said.

The rest of the trustees drowned him out with laughter.

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