While President Bush delivered his 14-minute commencement speech to a mostly attentive Caltech crowd of 10,000 Friday, about 40 abortion rights advocates and gay activists attempted to disrupt the visit, unfurling banners and chanting political slogans.
The activists said that they were given invitations to the commencement by sympathetic students and faculty members. Several were wrestled to the ground and led away by security officials as Bush spoke through the ruckus, joking that the protests were mild compared to those that have punctuated his other commencement addresses this year.
Pasadena police said that they detained 14 protesters on charges of disturbing the peace but released them after Caltech officials refused to press charges.
Earlier Friday morning, about 100 activists from abortion rights groups, the militant gay rights group ACT-UP LA and others protested in front of Caltech.
But other students and guests clearly were delighted to have the President on campus.
Graduating senior Jack L. Prater said that he felt a rush of emotion when Bush presented him with the institute's award as the most outstanding undergraduate of 1991.
Because this was Caltech, however, logic prevailed. Before making any sudden moves, Prater said, "I asked him if I could hug him, and he said I could.
"I didn't want anyone to shoot me," the physics major explained, prudently inclining his head to take in the Secret Service agents scattered throughout the crowd on the athletic field of the prestigious Pasadena institute.
Indeed, the campus known for being host to such scientific luminaries as Albert Einstein had never seen such tight security as on Friday.
The President joked about the spring tradition of Ditch Day pranks at the school, which have included the reassembling of cars inside dorm rooms. He said that he might be late for his next meeting because "some of Caltech's finest reassembled Air Force One in the lobby of my hotel."
Bush noted also that "Caltech is one of the few campuses . . . where PC has always stood for personal computer," referring to the controversy on many campuses regarding "politically correct" views.
Several students in the crowd sported stalks of broccoli pinned to their robes--a reference to the President's dislike of the vegetable. One wore a ragged piece of what looked like an American flag with the words "Overthrow militarism." Another calmly blew soap bubbles into the air throughout the ceremony.
Some graduates said that they would have preferred a more intimate commencement instead of a media circus in front of a crowd far larger than the 3,000 who usually attend the event.
One who changed her mind after hearing the President speak, however, was Jessica Barnett, 20, who taped Bush's words for her father.
"I decided that I do like that the President came and made this a festive event," the applied physics major said. "I thought it was . . . pretty good."