“If there had been the kind of horizontal support for dropping out as there is today, I would have dropped out.” Leonard Cohen As Student

Westmount High School

Not only did Leonard Cohen attend Westmount High School in Montreal, but he and the rest of his 1951 graduating class were memorialized in the school yearbook, Vox Ducum. And, thanks to the efforts to peddle this publication via the Internet (asking price: USD $3500), one can view the senior photo and review the condensed high school biography of Leonard Norman Cohen, class of 1951.

The blurb beneath Leonard Cohen’s photo reads


“We cannot conquer fear yet we can yield to it in such a manner as to be greater than it.”

“Quin” says: “Sir, can I make an announcement?” Pet Avers.: The coke machine, Pastime: Leading sing-songs at intermissions. Ambition: World famous orator. Prob. Dest.: McGill Cheerleader. Prototype: The little man who is always there. Hobby: Photography.

Activities: Students’ Council President, Menorah Club, Art Club, Vox Ducum, Current Events Club, Y.M.H.A;. Cheerleader.

In addition, the sales pitch notes that the School Theatrical Production entries

… show “Len” Cohen in the cast “Comes The Revolution” – as Julius Caesar in “Death of Julius Caesar” & as the producer for “God Save The King”… as Chairman of the Students Production Committee for “You Can’t Take It With You” [and] as Ticket Sales Manager for the play.


So, we learn that the pre-iconic Leonard Cohen was President of the Students’ Council, enjoyed photography and leading sing-songs, and was heavily involved in the school’s theater program. We – or at least those who share DrHGuy’s perspective – are unsurprised to have found that young Len entertained an ambition to become a “world famous orator” but are unsure how he came to harbor an aversion to the coke machine. That the accuracy of the yearbook staff’s prognostic capacity, vis-à-vis Cohen becoming a McGill cheerleader, has proven faulty seems somehow reassuring.

McGill University


I took supplementary examinations and I got fifty percent and I passed [at McGill University]. But that was to pay off old debts to my family and to my society. I think if there had been the kind of horizontal support for dropping out as there is today, I would have dropped out.1


Leonard Cohen


Entering McGill University at age 17, Leonard Cohen, as his quotation suggests, was not an excellent student with respect to his coursework, but he was considered a star in the English Department on the basis of his writing. He was also president of the debating union and the ZBT fraternity.

This excerpt from Poet Writer Singer Lover Cohen by Paul Grescoe2 is helpful:

Columbia University

After leaving McGill Cohen After completing his undergraduate degree, Cohen spent a term in McGill’s law school and then a year (1956–1957) at the School of General Studies at Columbia University. Cohen himself describes entering Columbia as “something of a lark, since I had finished McGill only by supplemental examinations and getting bare passes.”3 At Columbia, he wrote poetry, started a short-lived literary magazine called The Phoenix, began and ended at least three different romances (a fellow student, a care worker at a nearby children’s summer camp, and the same camp’s nurse), and, a year later, dropped out. Cohen described his graduate school experience as “passion without flesh, love without climax.”4

Honorary Degrees

In 1970, Cohen received an honorary LLD from Dalhousie University in University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1992, he received an honorary LLD from McGill University, Montreal. On the other hand, Leonard turned down a proffered honorary doctorate from the University of Ghent.

Credit Due Department: Photo of Leonard Cohen receiving honorary degree posted May 22, 2014 by Dalhousie News via Twitter

I am republishing selected posts from my former Leonard Cohen site, Cohencentric, here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at Leonard Cohen). This entry was originally posted May 17, 2014 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric.


  1. An Interview with Leonard Cohen by Michael Harris. Duel: Winter 1969. []
  2. Poet Writer Singer Lover Cohen by Paul Grescoe. Canadian Magazine: February 10, 1968. []
  3. Ten or More Questions I Should Have Asked Leonard Cohen by Ira B. Nadel []
  4. Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen by Ira Nadel. Random House (Toronto): 1996 []

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