Clinton commencement address a big event for Middlebury

05/25/07 12:00AM Ben Embry
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(Host) Bill Clinton will deliver the commencement address at Middlebury College on Sunday.

It will be a big event for a town Middelbury's size.

With the celebrity will come the traffic, the security and some extra business.

VPR's Ben Embry reports:

(Embry) While Middlebury College typically hosts around 6,000 people on graduation day, with the Clinton factor, the college is expecting a flood of extras this year.

More than 2,000 of them, in fact - a number that will more than double the town's population of just over 8,000 residents.

To mitigate traffic delays and other congestion surrounding graduation day ceremonies, the college is restricting the guest list to only those with tickets for the first time in its history.

John Emerson is the dean of special planning at Middlebury. He says the college was able to get Clinton, in part, thanks to an alumna who worked in the White House during the Clinton years.

Emerson is a former math professor. He has spent a lifetime solving exceedingly complex problems. While bringing Clinton to campus doesn't quite rise to the level of Zeno's paradox, Emerson says it does provide its challenges.

(Emerson) "The issue is not so much that we can't have whatever it turns out to be - 7,000 people - on the quad. But the issue is the capacity of the community and the town and the roads and the parking and logistics. And you have to have ambulances in the background if somebody you know, when you have that many people. It's just like a rock concert, you've got to be prepared."

(Embry) Given Clinton's security needs, local police might be forced to close some roads to accommodate the president's motorcade, which could exacerbate traffic problems and make for long waits.

Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley says the department is bringing in extra staff to handle the additional congestion and direct traffic. The college is also implementing a shuttle bus service to ferry guests to and from the ceremonies.

For local businesses, though, it should be a good day, especially if they've got the right merchandise.

Paula Israel is the owner of Wild Mountain Thyme, a retail store in the middle of town.

(Israel) "It's always a nightmare, traffic in this town. And graduation day is more of a nightmare and with Clinton coming, it's going to be more of a nightmare. But I like nightmares because it gives us more business (laughs)."

(Embry) Down the street is Sama's Caf , a hip market and restaurant that opened around this time last year. Sama Hayat is the young co-owner. He's also anxiously anticipating graduation weekend and the extra spike in business that Clinton's appearance will bring.

(Hayat) "It's up at least 40%. It really is. It adds quite a bit. We always do really well with the college and all the students and professors do when they add more people to the campus it adds more business to us. So, yeah, about 40%."

(Embry) For those not on Sunday's guest list, Middlelbury College will provide a webcast of the ceremony on the college website.

For VPR News, I'm Ben Embry.
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