10/06/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT
NOTHING ABOUT HER ARRIVAL WAS the least bit typical. Not the two-block motorcade; not the Secret Service contingent and some 200 journalists; not the metal detectors temporarily set up on campus. There was something surreal even when her father brought out a toolbox to pound picture hooks in her dorm-room wall. Just call him the Carpenter-in-Chief.
No, Chelsea Clinton's debut as a freshman at Stanford University couldn't be considered ordinary. But, oh, roughly 4 hours after the President and First Lady had cleared out, some semblance of normality returned—which is to say, a whole lot of goofy behavior. There was Chelsea with a couple of hundred other frosh shortly before midnight, trailing the school band from dorm to dorm, ending at the main quad with a rousing rendition of the Stanford fight song. Says Woojin Park, a sophomore who happened to spot his famous new schoolmate at the rally: "She looked like she was having a great time."
Both Chelsea and her parents are hoping the next four years will bring more of the same. Chelsea—whose Secret Service code name is reportedly Energy—will have her usual escort of bodyguards. But the young agents brought in for her detail will dress casually, the better to blend in with Stanford students, who tend to wear shorts year-round. (Among other discreet security measures, Chelsea's room is equipped with bulletproof glass.) The White House has even refused to disclose the name of Chelsea's freshman roommate. As the First Lady explained in her recent syndicated column, growing up is tough enough without "the extra pressure of press and public scrutiny."
At the very least, Chelsea's day-today life won't be what it was. In contrast to the pillared grandeur of the White House—where her comforter matched her floral bedroom wallpaper—her new room is a spartan affair in a low-slung pink stucco building. And while back home in Washington, Chelsea, who is a vegetarian, regularly savored the best efforts of a gourmet chef, she'll now be accommodated by the dining-hall staff at the Farm, as Stanford is semi-affectionately known.
Odds are she will accept the rough spots of college life with the same good grace for which she was known in high school. How well others at Stanford will adapt to her is still something of an open question. At freshman orientation, some parents were already grumbling at the disruption caused by the Clintons' presence. "Is it going to be like this for Parents Weekend [in February]?" complained one mother of a freshman son. As for the First Parents' long-prophesied case of empty-nest syndrome: President Clinton recently asked that 1998's Summit of the Americas, for which 34 heads of state will gather in Santiago, Chile, be postponed from March until April, according to The Washington Post, because of a scheduling conflict. By one account, that means Chelsea's spring break.