On campus at Stanford, the party line Celebrity: Studied, low-key responses from students and faculty as Chelsea Clinton arrives to begin her freshman year.

September 19, 1997|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

It's no big deal.

That's this fall's catchphrase at Stanford University, relayed endlessly to reporters vying for the lowdown on Chelsea Clinton. School officials and students alike would have us believe her attendance is nothing out of the ordinary. Chelsea will have a normal campus life, Secret Service agents, lurking media vultures and D.C. dad notwithstanding.

Apparently at Stanford, such things are incidental. They already have their share of contemporary campus stars such as millionaire dropout-golfer Ti- ger Woods and "The Wonder Years" actor Fred Savage. (Another, Danny Pintauro, of "Who's the Boss" fame, could use some of Chelsea's Secret Service protection. He was, after all, party to Alyssa Milano's rise to stardom.)

So at today's orientation, Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton will be just another set of proud Stanford parents, merely accompanied by the national media.

"They're going to do everything just like all the other families," says Neel Lattimore, Hillary Clinton's spokesman.

Tell that to Chelsea's unidentified freshman roommate while she's getting frisked by the first daughter's Secret Service pals. Then tell it to campus power players who have taken near-paranoid measures to stifle Chelsea publicity.

If the Clintons are just another family, and Chelsea just another student, why has the editor-in-chief of the student-run Stanford Daily threatened to fire reporters who give Chelsea information to the intrusive media?

"She's the daughter of the president, but as journalists we shouldn't write about her in a way that would take away from her experience here," says Murakami Tamoeh, a Stanford Daily editor and a senior majoring in political science. "I don't think it's as big a deal as the outside press seems to think."

Yeah, well, thanks for talking with us, Ms. Tamoeh. But I guess this means you're fired.

The newspaper's policy isn't the only hint that Chelsea's presence is a bigger deal than Stanford is willing to admit.

Why are all calls regarding her being forwarded to one Terry Shepard, director of university communications, who tells all inquiring minds only that he can't tell them anything?

Why has the press been skulking around campus since she made her decision?

Why are her roommate and dorm assignments bigger secrets than Cher's real age?

Because she's the first child of a sitting president to attend Stanford since Herbert Hoover's son, Allan.

Because everyone in America knows her cat's name.

Because she's Chelsea Clinton, the first freshman, and that is a big deal.

Chelsea, we know you're a sweet, normal kid, and your privacy is important, but let's face it: This is the opportunity of a lifetime.

College is tough. Especially Stanford. Everyone there is smart. Everyone's talented. Take advantage of what sets you apart.

In other words, milk it for all it's worth.

"I'm sure there are advantages to being the daughter of the most powerful man in the world," says Ben Decker, vice president of the Associated Students of Stanford University, a student brave enough to break the Chelsea gag order.

"But there's a price to pay."

Like what? Gobs of attention? Guaranteed social acceptance? Secret Service agents testing her dorm food? Suitors galore?

"I know hundreds of people whose goal is to go on a date with Chelsea Clinton," says Dennis Murphree, a sophomore majoring in computer science. "That's not my goal."

Well, good for Murphree, secure enough in his manhood that he can casually decline a date with the one girl who could definitively tell him if "Air Force One" was realistic.

Or maybe he doesn't want to face a Senate hearing if he tries to buy Chelsea a drink.

Not everyone on campus is blase about Chelsea's arrival. Take Stanford sororities, for instance.

"Everyone will be excited about the prospect of having her in their sorority," says Courtney Schroeder, social chair for Stanford's chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta. "I'd love to read her mind and see if she's going to be a Theta."

Hey, Chelsea could spend rush week in a paisley muumuu, eating all the wrong-colored M&Ms, and still be the most desired pledge. And during rush interviews, no one needs to ask her what her dad does for a living.

One thing could get in the way of a successful sorority initiation, though. That is, if Chelsea would still have to be guarded during the private, sacred ceremony.

"We'd have to initiate a bunch of Secret Service agents," says Schroeder, a junior majoring in public policy. "It would be hilarious to have Secret Service agents be honorary Thetas."

But before she fulfills her Greek fantasies, Chelsea will have to buckle down on schoolwork.

And she shouldn't expect any special treatment in her rumored major of choice, human biology, where attendance in freshman intro classes can exceed 250, according to Karen Kim, a senior in the major.

"I can't imagine the profs would even see her," Kim says. "Well, they would see her. But it wouldn't be a focus of the class."

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