Auburn Family

What Was Robert Gibbs Like in High School?

On May 9th, former White House press secretary and Auburn native, Robert Gibbs, will be speaking at Auburn University as the commencement speaker. Gibbs graduated from Auburn High school and attended North Carolina State University in 1993.


Betty Burgess was a teacher at Auburn High School the same time that Gibbs was a student. She attended Auburn University for her B.S., M.S, and Ed.D. She then started working at Auburn High in 1982. The two crossed paths when Gibbs was attending Auburn High in 1985-1989.

"I taught Bobby [Gibbs] when he was a junior in Advanced English 11. This was in 1987-88," said Burgess. "He graduated in the class of 1989, one of my favorite classes in the 19 years that I taught at AHS."  (Photo right:  Gibbs with President Obama.  Source:

Another class of 89 graduate as novelist and former Auburn University football player, Ace Atkins, who described Gibbs in another article as "a joker."

Burgess recalled his humor to be one of the many qualities that made him popular among his peers. "Bobby was a popular member of his class. He had a keen sense of humor and had lots of friends."

His humor hasn't left him. In a famous incident involving some cell phones, Gibbs joked around with the press, assuming a teacher role, but at the same time in a very calm matter. During the press conference, a reporter's phone rang, and instead of getting upset, Gibbs joked with the reporter telling him to put it on a vibrate, but then taking the phone up once the phone rang a second time.

Another incident, he publicly mocked Sarah Palin by writing things on his hand, as she did during an interview.


Like Atkins, Gibbs was also athletic. "He earned a varsity letter in soccer," Burgess said. Gibbs then went on to play soccer in college. 


As a student, Gibbs seemed not only to excel in popularity, but in his grades as well. "He did seem to be highly motivated," Burgess said. "He was very intelligent and witty [in class]."


Gibbs' motivation to succeed can be seen through his climb in Washington D.C. In 2004, he became the communication director for Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign. It was there Gibbs spent more time with Obama, giving him political advice and helping him with his strategies.


Knowing that Auburn is a mostly conservative town and typically votes Republican, it would seem likely that Gibbs would lose some friends or supporters by helping Obama and going Democrat but that hasn't been the case here.


Burgess said, "All of the people that I know who knew Bobby when he was a student here are very proud of his success regardless of their political preference. Dr. Emily Sparrow and Mrs. Elaine Rutland, his junior and senior social studies teachers, spent a day with him at the White House in February shortly before he left the role of press secretary. They had a wonderful day there as his guest. Another former teacher who is very supportive of Bobby is Mrs. Tana Branch, who was his art teacher at Auburn Junior High."

Coming home to his many supporters and old friends, students at Auburn University will be happy to hear him speak and they'll be sure to give him a big "War Eagle!" when he returns.

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Tags: Auburn High, Obama, Robert Gibbs, auburn, commencement


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