PALO ALTO, Calif. - She cheered at basketball games, she dated boys. She went to lectures and swing dances, she majored in history and got a late start on her honors thesis. She shopped at the mall and drank Starbucks coffee.
In all these ways and more, Chelsea Clinton was just another Stanford University undergraduate.
Tomorrow, the former first daughter will don cap and gown, just another bright-eyed 21-year-old reaching for her diploma, her proud parents cheering her on from the audience.
But, of course, she wasn't just another student.
When she leaves here, so will her shadows - the backpack-wearing, mountain bike-riding Secret Service detail. The history department's graduation, where students will receive their diplomas tomorrow afternoon, for the first time will be a closed, ticketed event, because Chelsea's parents, former President Bill Clinton and Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, will be there. Tonight, while most students celebrate at a pre-commencement party outside the student union, 250 guests will attend a private gala for Chelsea Clinton in the Rodin sculpture garden outside the Stanford Museum.
Her plans have been confirmed: She's following in her father's footsteps and going to study at Oxford.
From now on, Stanford students no longer will have to answer the dreaded question, "Do you know Chelsea?"
"It's the most annoying question you get," said Nadia Navarro, a graduate student in mechanical engineering.
Chelsea's college years began in September 1997 with a whirlwind of media coverage.
She arrived at Stanford in a presidential motorcade, trailed by her parents, dozens of Secret Service agents and more than 200 reporters.
Every detail of her "normal" college life was news - her dorm (Wilbur Hall), the security measures (bulletproof glass, cameras in the hallways, neighboring rooms filled with agents), her parents' reaction to their daughter's first steps into adulthood (tears, pride).
After the initial coverage, however, the news media, for the most part, backed off, almost unanimously agreeing to a White House plea to let Chelsea have a normal, and private, college experience. She has never given a public speech or granted an interview, even as she became more visible on trips abroad with her parents and on her mother's campaign trail last fall in New York.
Among her fellow students, Chelsea has been known as friendly, studious, social and, well, very normal.
Her one public flaw? She rode her bike badly. Very, very badly. She totaled a bike during freshman year, said a Stanford staff member who didn't want to be identified.
"She almost ran into me on her bike," said Ben Lipson, a mechanical engineering graduate student who also attended Stanford as an undergraduate.
"She is the worst bike rider ever," he said. "She ran a friend of mine into the bushes."
As a freshman, he said, Chelsea entered a swing dance contest and deftly made a cartwheel off her partner's leg. Someone snapped a photo.
"There were pictures of her underwear floating around campus forever," Lipson said.
Chelsea didn't hide from public view. She attended public lectures and Cardinal basketball games. She was seen last weekend at a traditional Stanford event at Memorial Auditorium, at which seniors don cap and gown and watch the movie "The Graduate."
`A normal student'
"Really, she was just a normal student," said Monique Boyce, a senior majoring in psychology.
Trailing Chelsea Clinton around campus for four years - trading dark suits for shorts, shiny cars for mountain bikes, glamorous travel for the streets of Palo Alto - must have been a drag for her Secret Service detail.
Unlike presidential daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush, who have been caught drinking alcohol underage, Chelsea Clinton did little to attract attention.
The Stanford police didn't have much to do, either, although there were some stalkers.
"We had a couple," said Stanford Police Chief Marvin Moore. "They were lavishing unwanted attention and trying to give gifts and make contact, but it was no one I would consider extreme."
And they were not Stanford students, he noted.
Jack Rakove, the Pulitzer-prize-winning author of "Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution," is Chelsea's honors thesis adviser.
Her 150-page thesis was on a certain American president's mediation of the 1998 Northern Ireland peace agreement, he said. Since Chelsea left school last fall to be with her parents - her mother was campaigning in New York, and her father was winding down his eight years in office - she got a very late start on the paper, Rakove said.
"She can do amazing amounts of work in a fairly short period of time," Rakove said. "And she's as well-informed an undergraduate as I've ever known. She's her parents' daughter."