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Suitcases, boxes and hugs: Chelsea’s on her own

September 20, 1997

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) _ With a melancholy mixture of pride and sorrow, Chelsea Clinton’s parents lugged suitcases and boxes into her Stanford University dorm room Friday _ a daylong goodbye to their only child.

In a ritual familiar to millions of Americans, President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton helped Chelsea, 17, leave the nest.

``I think they’re excited for their daughter but anxious,″ spokeswoman Marsha Berry said. ``I think they’re carrying on well.″

Chelsea, 17, giggled and waved at dozens of students, reporters and photographers who gathered to watch the first family take a brief stroll on the palm-lined campus.

``Welcome to Stanford!″ the students yelled. ``Thank you,″ Chelsea yelled back, almost bowing in excitement.

Standing at the top of the school library’s steep steps, Chelsea spotted two friends _ and shrieked. Clinton told Secret Service agents to let Alix Berger and James Wolf get up the steps, where Chelsea hugged them.

A few hours later, after a parent-student reception at Chelsea’s modest dormitory, Mom and Dad left for a parents-only dinner. They were not allowed to return. Chelsea joined her new classmates for a freshmen-only dinner.

She was on her own, no ordinary coed.

While her 1,600 classmates unloaded vans and station wagons, most of Chelsea’s belongings were shipped aboard a military plane this week and moved into her dormitory Thursday.

She took her first tour of campus in a presidential motorcade that stretched at least two city blocks, drawing stares from her classmates. One of the cars was stuffed with more of Chelsea’s stuff.

Inside the dormitory, Chelsea and her parents quickly began unpacking boxes, sorting through her belongings and arranging furniture in her modest room. Clinton’s first order of business was to ask aides for a toolbox so he could hang pictures.

Like all parents, the president wore a beige name tag. His read, ``Bill Clinton.″

At a formal welcoming ceremony for the freshmen and their families, student Blake Harris remembered his mother insisting that his dresser drawers be lined with pretty paper. Chelsea touched the first lady’s shoulder _ and mother and daughter laughed knowingly.

Among the first daughter’s belongings was a big, green stuffed frog _ a gift from the White House staff who wanted Chelsea to have something to hug when she gets lonely.

A forlorn Clinton briefly laid claim to it, telling an aide: ``I think I’m going to need this more than she will.″

The Clintons were hardly alone in their emotions.

Pamela Terry of Macomb, Ill., dropped off her only daughter, Anne Louise Terry, and said later, ``I started crying at the dorm.″

The president’s daughter is said to want to be a pediatric cardiologist, but nothing has been made public about her class load. Berry said Chelsea chatted with her roommate some time before Friday but does not know her well.

Reporters and photographers were kept away from the first family, except for the tightly controlled photo opportunity and the public welcoming ceremony.

In her syndicated newspaper column, Mrs. Clinton said her daughter ``should be left alone to mature as sanely as possible.″

At first, the first lady objected to plans for a campus picture-taking session. She relented when aides convinced her that freezing out the media would just increase the pressure from photographers and reporters, a White House official said.

Chelsea can count on seeing plenty of her parents: At least one White House memo has asked agency heads to look for reasons to send Clinton to California on business. The taxpayers will share the cost of the current trip with the Democratic National Committee, because Clinton is attending San Francisco fund-raisers Saturday.

For the first time since age 2, Chelsea will not be living in government housing. She swaps the butlers and ushers and cooks and cars and glamour of the White House for a simple dorm room, a roommate and a long long-distance telephone bill.

Family friends say Chelsea, who was literally counting down the days until her departure, was eager to strike out on her own.

Still, she has privately expressed concerns about whether she can lead a relatively normal life on campus with a Secret Service detail and a curious public. Her classmates don’t think it will be a problem.

``It seems like she’ll be able to lead a normal life here,″ said Greg Chan, 18, of Fairfield, Calif. ``At least as far as anyone in the spotlight can.″

Nigel Tse, 18, from Hillsborough, Calif., said simply: ``I’m more into being a freshman than being a freshman with Chelsea.″

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