Caltech students will peer through binoculars instead of their laboratory microscopes today to get a better glimpse of President Bush, who is scheduled to give the commencement speech on the Pasadena campus at about 10:30 a.m.
While some students expressed excitement at the prospect, not all the 10,000 students, family, faculty, staff and guests expected for commencement will be Bush fans.
Anti-war groups and abortion rights activists plan protests in front of the school. Some graduates say they may dangle clumps of broccoli from the tassels of their graduation caps, a reference to the President's publicized dislike of the vegetable.
Others complain that Bush is no friend of scientific research. "I think it's ironic that they picked someone who's eviscerating space science programs like Voyager just to get human beings up there in that space station," said Bill Softky, who is working on his doctorate in physics.
Graduating senior Max Baumert said he would have preferred former President Nixon, who resigned rather than face impeachment over Watergate.
"He's more controversial and would have been more interesting," said the 21-year-old chemical engineering major. He added that many students have greeted Bush's visit with apathy rather than "rabid Republicanism."
Bill Swanson, 22, senior class president, didn't agree. "Most of the students are excited," he said, "but a number of people are annoyed that commencement is being commercialized."
On Thursday, students seemed unfazed by the presence of the Secret Service and White House advance team, who had prowled the campus for most of the week preparing for the President's visit. Security helicopters buzzed overhead and workers put the finishing touches on grandstands.
Several nearby streets and Caltech buildings will be closed today and many students said they were told to stay home in the morning, causing some to grouse that the President's visit would interrupt important research.
The Secret Service also ordered that no one open any windows or appear on the roofs of buildings facing California Boulevard between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m.
All commencement guests must have invitations and pass through metal detectors, a White House official said. There are 502 graduates, and some have invited 30 or more guests.
Some students said their parents were excited at the prospect of seeing Bush up close, especially since the last President to visit the campus while in office was William Howard Taft in 1911.
A source of much speculation was whether students would pull any of their infamous Ditch Day-style pranks. One student spoke about hiding cotton sheeting under her skirt to unfurl with an abortion rights message during the ceremony.
Another talked about getting friends to don blood-red T-shirts and stand up at a designated moment as a silent war protest.
Spokesman Bob Finn said the only traditional Caltech commencement shenanigan is setting off a huge cannon in the center of the school. "It's bolted to the ground and pointed in the other direction" from where Bush will speak, Finn said.
Nonetheless, some students hinted that pranks might be in the works.
"Nerds come in all flavors--conservative, liberal," said one student, poking fun of the Caltech stereotype of gawky young men and women with polyester pants and pocket protectors. "Those guys can outsmart the Secret Service any day."