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Town and college prep security for Clinton visit

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May 7, 2007

By MEGAN JAMES

MIDDLEBURY — The hassles that regularly accompany graduation ceremonies, namely, traffic and anxious parents, might be exaggerated at Middlebury College’s commencement this year, college officials say. Who’s to blame?

Bill Clinton, of course.

The former president will address the nearly 600 members of the class of 2007 on Sunday, May 27, at 10 a.m., outside on the green below Mead Chapel. Unlike in years past, for security and overcrowding reasons, guests at the event will need to have tickets.

“We didn’t have any way of knowing just how much interest we were likely to have in the commencement,” said Secretary of the College John Emerson, who is helping to plan the event. But as of the end of April, the college is expecting to accommodate up to 8,000 people, including students, faculty and staff — about 2,000 more than normal.

Commencement coordinators have met with a Secret Service agent from Burlington to loosely discuss the security implications of the event, but they have reached few conclusions yet and aren’t likely until days before the event.

Emerson said final plans won’t be made until a week before the ceremony, when a Secret Service team from Washington, D.C., will help college officials iron out details like whether or not Clinton will march in the processional, where he will get dressed in his graduation robe and how his body guards will provide security in that particular area. 

They will also look at the security of the buildings around the main quad where commencement takes place, and probably station Secret Service agents in each of them.

“One of the main worries is the traffic implications,” Emerson said. “We’re making plans to provide shuttle service from area hotels in order to minimize the amount of cars on the roads.”

The Middlebury Police Department will be involved in controlling traffic and designating a route for Clinton’s motorcade, which for a brief time, could involve blockading roads in town.

“Out job is to make sure that his route of travel is unimpeded,” Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said. “When we get him in the car, we will work to get him out of there as quickly as possible.”

Of course, Clinton might not be rushing to leave, Hanley said. If he decides to stick around for lunch, the police department will have to accommodate that change in plans. For this reason, their “external security” plans are not entirely set in stone.

Hanley said Middlebury residents should count on traffic delays throughout the day, especially within the hour after the ceremony.

“There’s always a lot of traffic for commencement, but this is going to be a lot bigger,” he said. “There’s going to be an exceptional amount of traffic.”

At this point, tickets are reserved for graduates and their family members, faculty, staff and alumni of the college. Commencement Coordinator Kathleen Knippler said tickets would not be released to members of the greater Middlebury community until everyone with direct connections to the college had a chance.   

“We’re trying to keep this from turning into a circus,” she said.

The ceremony will be broadcast live on Middlebury Community Television’s education channel, Channel 16, as well as on the Middlebury College Web site.

Knippler acknowledged that Clinton’s presence will undoubtedly add a level of hype to the ceremony, but she stressed that the college wants to maintain the intimacy of the event.

“It’s a graduation ceremony for graduates and their families, and that’s what we’re trying to keep it.”

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