The Monday morning announcement had a familiar admonitory tone, but the message was somewhat unusual. Henceforth, the boarding-school director declared, students would no longer be allowed to land their helicopters on the football field.
Welcome to the Institut Le Rosey, the world’s most exclusive and expensive high school. Located in Rolle, Switzerland, on the shores of Lake Geneva, Le Rosey (pronounced Le Roseay) charges $25,000 a year to educate the offspring of millionaires, royals and movie stars. Its 300-plus students in grades 4 to 12 come from more than 40 countries and have one trait in common: They’re all very, very rich.
Like any American high school, Le Rosey publishes a yearbook. But this one costs $46,700 to produce and the ads in the back are purchased not by the local malt shop but by Sotheby’s, Bugatti and Cartier. Graduation brings not just a Swiss watch, but sometimes a Ferrari or Porsche from Mom and Dad. School field trips include outings to Moscow or Cairo, and during winter the entire school—students, faculty and staff—decamps for a season-long stay at Gstaad, the exclusive Swiss resort, where skiing is a required course. (In the spring, most students satisfy the sports requirement with track and tennis.) Even student pranks have a Midas touch. Rebellious kids don’t run away from school, they fly. One truant played hooky on a jet all the way to the south of Spain before school authorities caught up with her. “Here the classic thing to do,” says one graduating mischief-maker, “is send a telex to the school saying you’re being taken off for the weekend with your uncle and then you go to a hotel and stay.”
Kids will be kids, a truth much in evidence at last month’s graduation, which one young member of Italy’s ruling class termed “more of a belle fête than a ceremony.” In the shade of massive oak trees surrounding the 13th-century chateau that serves as the school’s main building, 500 or so students, guests and parents, including Placido Domingo Jr. and a pregnant Diana Ross, dined on paella washed down with sangria. After-dinner entertainment included singing by Placido Jr.’s brother, Alvaro, and Ross’s daughters Tracee and Rhonda. A student production of Romeo and Juliet, the young lovers played by a California real estate tycoon’s son and a Norwegian billionaire’s daughter, was marred slightly when Romeo started giggling during his death scene.
Founded in 1880, Le Rosey began as a finishing school where rich young men learned good manners and collected trophies for sports. Graduates include Prince Rainier of Monaco, the Aga Khan, the late Shah of Iran and former CIA director Richard Helms. College preparation, with classes taught in English and French, gradually became a priority. Learning the essentials of giant slaloms and ground strokes are regarded as crucial, however, and such diverse priorities must have appealed to Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Ustinov, David Niven and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, all of whom sent kids to the school, which went coed in the ’60s. Actor Roger Moore picked Le Rosey for son Geoffrey, who has called it an expensive “holiday camp” and says he’d send his sons elsewhere.
To ward off paparazzi and kidnappers, Le Rosey maintains sophisticated security on the 50-acre campus and identifies students by their first names only. But even without such measures the students would be aware of their special status. “My family’s not super-rich, but if I’m here, it says something,” says Mimi, the daughter of a Washington lawyer. “The only kids I don’t like are the ones who have to prove themselves by showing how much money they have. But you have to learn to live with them. After a while you realize it’s funny to hear a kid say he went downtown to buy a camera and couldn’t decide which one so he bought both.”
Le Rosey’s prosperity largely depends not on the pinch-penny habits of parsimonious school boards, but on the international price of oil. According to director Philippe Gudin, enrollment was hurt when prices began falling several years ago. “We’re okay for next year,” he says, “but applications are down. We no longer have the long waiting lists we once had.”
Like students everywhere, the kids at Le Rosey depend upon parental generosity for living allowances. While the school recommends a $40 a week maximum, one student says his parents were shocked by the paltry sum and quietly gave him a credit card with a $1,000 monthly limit.
Virtually all of Le Rosey’s 45 graduates will continue their studies in Europe or at such U.S. schools as Georgetown and Boston University, where learning is a bit less luxurious. Meanwhile, Eva, a Syrian whose parents live in Geneva, will summer in the south of France before cruising the coast of Spain with friends. Sohab, a Pakistani whose father works in Saudi Arabia, plans to work on his squash game with a private trainer in Dubai.
Mimi, the lawyer’s daughter who admits she plans one day to work for a living, says, “One good thing about Rosey: When somebody asks, ‘Where do you go to school?’ and I tell them about this place, they say, ‘WOW!’ ”