At Stanford, The First Couple Bid Farewell To The First Freshman

PALO ALTO, Calif. - They may be the first parents, but yesterday they were just like any other couple leaving their only child behind on her very first day at college.

Well, almost. First, you'd have to disregard the photo op, the motorcade, the front-row seats at freshman convocation, the Secret Service agents herding campus crowds and the scores of journalists waiting nearly two hours in the sunshine for a comment from Dad on his daughter's new home.

His words: "Maybe we should all stay. This is great."

Stanford University freshman Chelsea Clinton, with the president and first lady in tow, rode up to her dorm at 9 a.m. in a jam-packed Chevrolet Suburban.

Like hundreds of other parents, Mom and Dad spent the morning hauling boxes and suitcases, met Chelsea's mystery roommate and her mother, then helped their daughter settle into the spare room where she will live the next nine months.

Losing a child to age and academia is an equalizing experience unlike most others. Or, as Si Barghelame from Woodinville, Wash., put it yesterday morning, while his teary wife stood silently by, and his own freshman lugged kitchenware to his new home: "This is the only day I do exactly what the president of the United States does."

Yesterday, the other freshmen and their parents seemed unusually eager to allow the Clintons at least a moment or two of normalcy. Instead of flocking around and asking for autographs or photos, the other families in Chelsea's dorm concentrated on their own momentous occasions, said Marsha Berry, spokeswoman for the first lady.

Of course, as the daughter of the president, Chelsea cannot have a completely normal life. For one thing, she moved in with her own Secret Service detail.

But her dressed-to-blend-in agents are expected to give her a wide berth. Reportedly, they will have a room in her hall, but they are unlikely to prevent her from engaging in normal activities.

"I would think that what they would probably do is have an agent like down the hall or somewhere else in the dorm," said a White House official, who asked not to be named. "What she does on her hall, she does on her hall. They probably won't even know."

A year's tuition, room and board at the highly competitive 8,000-acre private school 30 miles south of San Francisco will cost the Clintons nearly $30,000. The family does not qualify for any of the nifty college cost-cutting measures Clinton pushed through Congress this year.

"I don't think she's getting financial aid," said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.

After helping set up Chelsea's dorm room, the Clintons separated from their daughter to attend a lunch with other parents and university officials and a panel discussion on college life. Chelsea dined with her new co-ed dormmates. The three hooked up again for a stroll past reporters on the way to the afternoon open house.

After a short meeting with Stanford's president and the official convocation ceremony for freshmen - with the Clintons in reserved, front-row seats - it was back to the dorm for a reception.

And then the big goodbye.

It was private. Of course.