He arrived on campus a middling high school student from Medford, Massachusetts, who had settled for C's and had confined his ambitions to the math club.
But by the time Michael Bloomberg left Johns Hopkins University, with a smattering of A's and a lust for leadership, he was a social and political star - the president of his fraternity, his senior class and the council overseeing fraternities and sororities.
His gratitude toward the university, starting with a US$5 donation the year after he graduated, has since taken on a supersize, Bloombergian scale.
Yesterday, as he was due to make a US$350 million gift to his alma mater - by far the largest in its history - the New York City mayor, along with the president of the university, was to disclose the staggering sum of his donations to Johns Hopkins over the past four decades: US$1.1 billion.
That figure, kept quiet even as it transformed every corner of the university, makes Bloomberg the most generous living donor to any educational institution in the US, according to university officials and philanthropic tallies.
The timing of his latest donation, as the mayor's third term draws to a close, offers a glimpse of the sky-is-the-limit philanthropy that he and his aides say is likely to dominate his life after City Hall. The mayor, who is 70, has pledged to give away all of his US$25 billion fortune before he dies, and he has built up a foundation on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to carry out the task.
At the same time, the donations highlight the unusually close relationship between Bloomberg and Johns Hopkins, which has played an unseen role in several of his biggest undertakings as mayor.
In an interview, Bloomberg said he was making his donations public to encourage greater charitable giving toward education. He lamented, "In our society, we are defunding education."
Johns Hopkins as it exists today is inconceivable without Bloomberg, whose giving has fuelled major improvements in the university's reputation and rankings, its competitiveness for faculty and students, and the appearance of its campus.
His wealth - and a small army of his favoured architects, art consultants and landscape designers - has bankrolled and molded the handsome brick-and-marble walkways, lamps and benches that dot the campus; has built a physics building, a school of public health, a children's hospital, a stem-cell research institute, a malaria institute and a library; has commissioned giant art installations by Kendall Buster, Mark Dion and Robert Israel; and financed 20 per cent of all need-based financial aid grants to undergraduates over the past few years.
"The modern story of Hopkins is inextricably linked to him," said Ronald Daniels, the university's president. "When you look at these great investments that have transformed US higher education, it's Rockefeller, it's Carnegie, it's Mellon, it's Stanford — and it's Bloomberg."
Hopkins, in return, has become a brain trust for Bloomberg, shaping his approach to issues like cigarette smoking, gun violence and obesity.
It was faculty members at Hopkins who introduced Bloomberg, as a donor and as a trustee, to a growing body of science linking behaviour and disease.
Bloomberg tends to finance ideas that appeal to his contrarian style and corporate ethos. For years he has rotated top executives around his media company to encourage collaboration. In the hope of replicating that experience, most of his latest donation, about US$250 million, will be used to hire 50 new faculty members who will hold appointments in two departments. The remaining US$100 million will be devoted to financial aid.