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Chelsea's Choice: Stanford

Education: The first daughter is California bound. Between the parties and sunbathing, she'll fit in some premed studies.

May 01, 1997|FAYE FIORE and HEATHER KNIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Take that, Harvard. Princeton too. Chelsea Victoria Clinton has said "no thanks" to white spires and ivy-covered towers. She's trading prime rib for sprouts and granola, tweed jackets for a sports bra. She's going to Stanford, where freshmen sunbathe in February, roller-blade to class, and the marching band's sousaphones are occasionally ornamented with marijuana leaves.

And, oh yes, it's also about as far away from Mom and Dad as a 17-year-old Washington girl can get.

"Planes run out there and phones work out there. E-mail works out there, so we'll be all right," the president remarked. Nice try, Dad. Isn't this the same guy who practically teared up on TV at the thought of his little girl going off to college?

The first daughter--who loves ballet, excels academically and on a recent trip with her mother to Africa revealed herself to be a thoughtful, articulate teenager with actual opinions on world affairs--had her pick of the most prestigious schools in America.

After much suspense, the announcement came Wednesday--a three-line statement released by her mother's office--that Chelsea would enter Stanford University this fall as a member of the class of 2001. She's declared premed as a major.

Evidently, it was a race to the finish. She was one of 15,000 students nationwide to qualify as a National Merit semifinalist, opening the doors to the likes of Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Brown. But in the end, Stanford's mission-style campus swayed her.

"Chelsea anguished right up to the last minute," said a former administration official close to the family. "But she fell in love with Stanford when she first visited."

It can be safely said, then, that Chelsea isn't blind. Towering palm trees stand like sentries at Stanford's main gate. Red-roofed adobes lounge along a sprawling Palo Alto campus. The place has its own lake. Gracious San Francisco awaits some 25 miles away. And the student body appears to have figured out how to do well in school and still have a good time.

Chelsea is not just going away to school, she's going to California, the Golden State, Laid Back capital of the world. And few places embody that ambience as much as Stanford.

Each spring there's a party called "Exotic Erotic," where the goal is to wear as little clothing as possible without getting arrested. Freshmen girls at orientation have been known to put on sports bras and paint STANFORD in red on their stomachs. Something called MuFuUnSun, (Music and Fun Under the Sun) has become an annual rite.

Not that this is a school for lightweights. Among the Stanford alumni are four of the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, astronaut Sally Ride, former President Herbert Hoover, and computer gurus William Hewlett and David Packard.

At the same time, it is said that if Stanford were a country, it would have been among the top gold-medal winners in last summer's Olympics. Swimmer Summer Sanders is an alumna and gold medal gymnasts Amy Chow and Dominique Dawes have been accepted. Tennis great John McEnroe and golf legend Tiger Woods are alumni.

(At Harvard, of course, they have become quite adept at sculling. Must have been a tough choice for the first daughter.)

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They seemed quite elated at Stanford on Wednesday to have snagged the nation's most eligible freshman.

"She obviously made the right choice. I think Chelsea will enjoy it here because she's been in Washington for four years and the weather there blows. She probably chose Stanford for the weather," said Andy Lane, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering.

If they were broken up at Harvard about losing her, nobody would say. Officialdom there treated the news like some kind of state secret.

"Oh, I'm not getting into that kind of dialogue," said someone at the Harvard News office. "I wish Chelsea and all the students entering college the best of luck this fall."

ZZZZZzzzzzz.

And so a new life awaits the young woman who is arguably one of the nation's most overprotected children, though certainly not without cause. Her parents have sent her to private school, shielded her from a sometimes cruel limelight, even persuaded the unruly media to leave her alone.

"I hope that people at Stanford don't treat her differently because she's the first daughter," Lane said.

Not likely. Chelsea will be on her own, but that's only if you don't count the Secret Service agents who'll be at her side every waking moment and not far away when she's asleep. The daughter of an incumbent American president can hardly blend in with the crowd. Special measures are always taken with celebrity freshmen at Stanford when arranging a dorm and a roommate. (When actor Danny Pintauro attended, students on treasure hunts showed up at the door asking for a lock of his hair.) And few are more special than Chelsea.

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