...except history. Actually, UC has had a campus in the Central Valley for more than a century, at Davis. Nevertheless, when in 1988 UC announced plans for three new campuses, it was expected that the one most likely to be built would be in the San Joaquin Valley, probably in Fresno. But, Brown is right, it is a lovely piece of land. It is a terrible thing to realize that a prolonged economic depression is likely to be a principle obstacle to UC and other developers completely ruining most of it. However, as late as early 1999, the UC Merced campus was not a "done deal." And, as one of the former speaker's oldest political cronies, John Burton, former president pro tem of the state Senate, aptly remarked at the time, the campus is a "boondoggle," of the win/win, public/private variety.
But, that's just history. This is just more politics.
Badlands Journal editorial board
San Francisco Chronicle
How Merced snagged first lady for commencement...Willie Brown
I had a heck of a trip a few days back to Merced, where I learned how the little UC campus there managed to land Michelle Obama as commencement speaker for its first graduating class next month.
The reason for my visit dates to my time as state Assembly speaker. When the University of California started making noises about adding a campus, I quickly figured out that it would be a real political plus to put it somewhere in the Central Valley.
I knew that if I ever pulled it off, it would make me bigger than the head of the National Rifle Association with the people down there.
The question was where. Bakersfield? Fresno? Modesto?
I never saw any of the sites, but I studied all the proposals meticulously and we settled on Merced. I finally visited the campus for the first time Monday, having been invited down there to speak.
If I had any clue of the location, I probably would never have supported it. It's almost three hours from anywhere.
But - when you get there - it is a lovely piece of land. And I think the campus will eventually be one of the premier UC institutions.
Anyway, as to how they got the first lady to be commencement speaker: The students mounted a letter-writing campaign. They must have gotten everybody in the valley to write one, because there were thousands. Then they packaged them all and delivered them to the White House on Valentine's Day.
And these weren't your typical letter-writing campaign letters, where there's a master form and everyone copies it in their own hand.
No, everyone wrote their own. Somebody on the first lady's staff took one look and realized this was really genuine.
So now the first lady gets the campus' first honorary degree, and UC Merced gets on the map.
Plenty of details to resolve before first lady's commencement address at UC Merced
Time of graduation is moved up; now everyone wants to be there...DANIELLE GAINES
Preparations for this year's graduation ceremony at UC Merced are in overdrive, with just over one month before first lady Michelle Obama will deliver the keynote address to the university's inaugural class.
"We're working on programs, we're working on location, finding enough chairs, events before the graduation, after the graduation, all the details," said Jane Lawrence, vice chancellor for student affairs.
Interest in the ceremony has grown so staggeringly that a phone number listed on the UC Merced Web site for student tickets had to be rerouted from the chancellor's office to the main switchboard.
For the first time, UC Merced is printing tickets for the event -- 9,000 of them.
Campus organizers were originally expecting about 2,000 spectators this year.
"Four years ago, we graduated three people," Lawrence said. "This year we are graduating 500. Then, as you probably have heard, we have a keynote speaker that has attracted a little bit of attention."
All that attention has caused a bit of a headache for some of the graduating students.
Nick Nakamura led a letter-writing campaign in his fraternity, Sigma Chi, for the "Dear Michelle" campaign.
Now the 21-year-old senior and his family are waiting to see if they will get any tickets in addition to the eight promised to each graduating student. Nakamura had planned to invite 15 members of his family from San Diego, Los Angeles and Colorado.
Even though his family has already reserved more hotel rooms than they may be able to deal with, "I'm more or less just disappointed that previous UC Merced graduations were open, and this one will have to be ticketed," Nakamura said.
Other families said that the change in time for the ceremony has caused financial strain. (Obama requested an earlier ceremony when she accepted the invitation to be home with her daughters before the president leaves on a trip the next morning, UC officials said.)
"I actually felt that I was waiting sort of dangerously long because I didn't start looking for a flight out there until mid-March," said Murray Miles, the father of a graduating senior.
Miles originally planned to fly into San Francisco from Sarasota, Fla., on the morning of the ceremony.
Now his daughter won't be able to pick him up from the airport at 11 a.m. and make it to the ceremony in time, so Miles must fly in on Friday, the day before the ceremony.
"I am going to have to eat it," Miles said of the cost of the plane ticket.
"It would have been one thing to move it up just an hour. Pretty much everyone can deal with that. But to move it up six hours?" Miles asked.
His daughter, MaryCharlotte, said she finds the sudden change in plans distressing.
"To me, the important people are my family," she said. "I just hope everything goes smoothly and that everybody realizes this is a really big deal for us. We are the inaugural class, and we've been working really hard."
Campus officials and some student leaders acknowledge that luring a speaker with as spectacular a profile as the first lady required some changes in their plans. But they strongly believe the positive publicity stemming from Michelle Obama's visit will benefit the university in untold ways for a long time.
"I am starting to just question a little bit how much of an emphasis is on the graduating class (now)," said graduating senior Matt Siordia. "After a few years, it will reach a balance where we are known as the class that brought this big speaker here."
Outgoing student body president Yaasha Sabba is on the campus graduation steering committee. He's trying to make sure that events and programs unfold as smoothly as they can.
"Students have been coming up to us. All of the student concerns will be addressed," he said. "We want to make sure that the commencement is a great moment for the whole university."
It was unclear Friday afternoon how much the changes to the ceremony will cost the university.
UC Merced will graduate its first full senior class at 1:30 p.m. May 16, which is a Saturday.
UC Merced GOP group heads tea party
UC Merced's College Republicans said they're sponsoring a Tax Day Tea Party on Wednesday on campus from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The events are the modern-day Boston Tea Parties and are nonpartisan rallies for the public to demand government financial responsibility, the group said.
Hundreds of similar tea parties have been held in nearly every state in the union over the past two months.
They focus on taxes and demand that the federal government not spend trillions of borrowed dollars that future generations will have to pay off.
The Young Republicans said they'll join more than 300 cities nationwide, and more than 40 cities throughout California, which are also holding the events.The campus group will be selling food, drinks and will have a raffle featuring UC Merced gear and books. Those who come can bring their own picket signs, the Young Republicans said.
Contact collegerepublicans @ucmerced.edu, or visit the Web site at MercedTeaParty.com.