September 20, 1997 in Nation/World

Clintons Low Profile For First Coed Chelsea Just ‘Normal’ Parents At Hectic College Scene

James Bennet New York Times
 

Lucas Ryan was still getting used to his new dorm room and new friends at Stanford University here Friday when the president of the United States materialized in the hallway.

Clinton had wandered away from daughter Chelsea’s room downstairs, saying that he wanted to see what the guys’ hall looked like.

“He wasn’t warning us or anything,” Luke added hastily.

But his mother, Holly Ryan, detected if not a warning, at least a little parental jumpiness at work. “He was just doing some checking, as a father,” said Holly Ryan, who was clutching a bag containing a bottle of bleach that she had insisted her boy could not live without (by today, she had given up on the iron).

The Clintons tried hard Friday to be normal parents arriving on this sun-soaked campus with a normal daughter, just one of 1,650 freshmen moving in to meet roommates, visit the booths set up by the singing groups or Campus Crusade for Christ and pick out Picasso or Pink Floyd posters at the bookstore.

Indeed, the Clintons were so intent on seeming average that the president, famous for loquacity, managed to pass a whole day on campus without making a speech.

But they did not pull it off, of course. After all, the Clintons had more than 200 reporters in tow and what seemed like an even greater number of secret service agents sleuthing about, investigating parked vehicles and shopping for memorabilia at the book store.

The Clintons have insisted they want as little attention as possible during their trip here, although the images of the first family grappling with their imminent separation seem certain to bolster the president’s popularity. Reporters were admitted to only one event Friday, the convocation. And the Clintons agreed to only one photo opportunity, briefly strolling along a walkway before photographers. “Thanks,” called Chelsea.

The Clintons arrived on campus at about 9 a.m., with boxes and suitcases piled in the back of their Chevrolet Suburban. Aides said they then spent a couple of hours unpacking and getting Chelsea settled in her new room before heading off to the events that Stanford had arranged for all new parents.

Some freshmen sounded a little put out by the proximity of so much star power. “Everyone is making jokes about how Chelsea’s coming, but I’m going to college, too,” said Carrie McAndrews, a freshman from Los Angeles. Then she flashed a grin and said she was having too much fun to mind very much.

But several parents and students said they were surprised at how little the presence of the first family disrupted their own big day. “They’re really going out of their way to make it a relaxed day for their daughter,” said Charlie Van Meter, who attended a parents’ lunch with the Clintons after moving his son, David, into his room.

The other parents were not patted down or forced to walk through metal detectors before sitting outside with the Clintons for a turkey sandwich and a speech by the provost, Condoleezza Rice, a former aide to President George Bush. Only a few of the parents went up to shake hands with the Clintons, said others who attended the lunch.


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