GLENDALE — The excitement of seeing President Clinton at Glendale Community College on Tuesday was so overwhelming for Lily Lopez that she found herself near tears.
"He's my president. This is a once-in-a-lifetime happening," said Lopez, 50, of Burbank, whose enthusiasm overshadowed the fact that she's a registered Republican. "He's the president of the greatest country in the world. How do you pooh-pooh that?"
Like Lopez, most of the more than 1,500 spectators gathered in bleachers or sitting on the grassy hill area along San Rafael Plaza were almost giddy about Clinton's appearance. The crowd included students, college administrators and staff, many of them waving U.S. flags.
Clinton, the first chief executive to speak at the 69-year-old college, received repeated applause and generated laughs from the crowd despite a couple of hecklers, a fight involving protesters outside the college, and a slip of the tongue in which the president referred to Glendale Mayor Sheldon Baker as "Calvin Baker."
The president, with red and gold banners on either side of him that read "Putting Families First," covered such crowd-pleasing topics as educational TV programs for children, easier access to college loans and tax credits for community college students during his 25-minute speech.
"We simply cannot create the kind of America we're working for until every single American has access to a higher level of education," Clinton said. "That's why I said it is time to guarantee every single American, not 12, but 14 years of education. We should guarantee it for every American."
The president's speech at the college was the last major appearance of a three-day campaign swing through California. The college was chosen after President John A. Davitt wrote the White House saying the school aptly illustrated the president's educational agenda.
Mayor Baker sat in a VIP section with the rest of the Glendale City Council and other local officials and would-be officeholders.
Congressional candidates Assemblyman James R. Rogan (R-Glendale) and his Democratic opponent Doug Kahn were in the audience, as was Scott Wildman, a Democrat running to replace Rogan in Sacramento. Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti was also in the crowd.
The president's appearance left Shirley Wright, 61, of La Crescenta, smiling and waving her flag at the college even after he could no longer be seen.
"I thought he made a great impression on the community," said Wright, an administrative assistant at the college who also was busy taking photographs. "As he left I got one really close up."
Heike Tersakian, 30, of Tujunga, an instructor at the college, managed to make her way through the crowd to shake Clinton's hand.
"It's a privilege to see the president of the United States," she said. "And so close."
LeVon Karayan and LeVon Simonian, both 20-year-old students at the college, said Clinton showed he cared about the plight of community college students, many of whom must work, study, worry about raising funds for a four-year college and care for children.
"I just like the idea of him giving a tax break," Simonian said.
But among those who were disappointed was Ella Washington, founder and director of Zenith Youth Homes, a nonprofit agency in Inglewood and Los Angeles.
Washington, a Clinton supporter, and several youths expected the president to address their concerns that group homes could become a thing of the past because of lack of funding, but he did not.
"I'm a little unhappy about that," she said. "I'm still a supporter. He's doing a lot of good things for young people."
Others who were disappointed included many who stood for several hours waiting to get into the ticketed event--the line wrapping around campus buildings, media trucks and dumpsters--but were turned away.
Still, there were far more people who were thrilled.
Shaking hands--twice--with the president was so inspirational for Japanese exchange student Satsuki Kodama, 32, that she said she was going to start studying U.S. history.
After he left the college, the president stopped for an impromptu lunch at the Rocky Cola Cafe on Honolulu Avenue in nearby Montrose.
Assistant manager Saundra Clark said the '50s-style diner had only 10 minutes warning before the president strolled in. Secret Service agents oversaw preparation of a buffalo burger, fries and an iced tea.
"When the president came in, every one had to stay sitting down for 10 minutes," Clark said.
By the time Clinton got up to leave, a crowd had gathered and the president waded in, shaking hands.