Chelsea's New Morning

When she first visited the Taj Mahal with her mother five years ago, Chelsea Clinton was a shy 15-year-old struggling with her celebrity as First Daughter. The Clintons, determined to preserve her privacy, placed her nearly every move and utterance strictly off limits to reporters. The traveling press had to fight for permission to quote her musing innocently that she'd once dreamed of herself as a princess in the 17th-century landmark. Last week the poised and blossoming 20-year-old, on spring break from her junior year at Stanford, returned to stroll the grounds hand in hand with her dad during his state visit to India.

Officials insist that her emergence--while Mrs. Clinton stayed back in New York to campaign for the Senate--does not signal a new, enhanced role as surrogate First Lady. But the rare photos reminded Americans that she is probably up to the task. She sprinkled petals at Mahatma Gandhi's memorial and kibitzed with photographers with the self-possession of a political pro. "Hey, you guys," she quizzed, "did you know that they built the Taj Mahal at this point on the river because it [the river] is in the shape of a crescent moon?" Aides still throw a protective shroud over her schedule, but they acknowledge the change. "She's more accustomed to having people greet her as a person who's well known," said Lissa Muscatine, Mrs. Clinton's White House press secretary.

With Chelsea now away at school, the Clintons use the long overseas trips to stay connected to their daughter. Last year she traveled with her father to New Zealand, and aides say the famously mercurial president is in noticeably better spirits when she is around. Bunking together on a 1999 trek through Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia, mother and daughter discussed a possible Senate campaign in New York, and Chelsea gave her blessing.

Her life at Stanford seems to have settled into a comfortable normalcy. Chelsea sightings, complete with apple-cheeked Secret Service agents trailing discreetly behind her on bicycles, scarcely create a ripple on campus anymore. Friends say she's still leaning toward a career in pediatric medicine, and while she may campaign for Mom this summer, nothing is planned right now. If she does, says a family friend, "it will be her decision."

Chelsea's New Morning | News