TURLOCK -- Sarah Palin discussed civic education, freedom of speech and her infamous "bendable straws" demand at California State University, Stanislaus, on Friday night.
In a 34-minute speech, she poked fun at controversy sparked by the March announcement she would appear at the public school and the outcry over her confidential contract, a portion of which students said they found in a university Dumpster.
"Do I have my straws?" she said, referring to her contract with the school's nonprofit foundation. She said that she felt sorry for the Washington Speakers Bureau, which on her behalf negotiated "with the entire state of California."
The gala was the most lucrative single fundraiser in the university's history, netting more than $200,000. It thrust the campus in the national spotlight, with Democratic leaders condemning her confidential fee and liberal groups calling her a poor choice for the university's 50th anniversary gala because she had no tie to academia or the area.
Her visit was met by a daylong protest; about 100 critics chanted slogans and carried signs labeling her "Sinister Sarah." Another crowd carried signs supporting Palin.
Inside, a prolonged standing ovation greeted the former Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor as she entered the dining area.
She repeatedly referenced Ronald Reagan's optimism. She said she felt a kinship with the farmers in the room because she's the owner of a family fishing business.
She called for a return to common sense in the country and took President Obama to task for what she sees as soft views on the war on terror and immigration.
"We must embrace our entrepreneurial drive, and allow America to remain the world's standard-bearer for excellence," she said.
Palin took a shot at those who have launched an investigation into the finances of the university's nonprofit foundation in response to her confidential contract.
"Attorney General Jerry Brown and friends, this is California, do you really not have anything better to do?"
Her presence kept Turlock buzzing throughout the day.
Even as waiters set the tables, protesters gathered and the guest of honor landed in Modesto, people were trying to get into the dinner.
"My phone has been ringing off the hook all day with people still wanting tickets," Foundation President Matt Swanson said Friday afternoon.
The gala brought in $450,000 gross. University officials estimated they spent $190,000 and got $50,000 in in-kind donations, such as drinks and supplies.
Black, gold and crystal table settings, white flowers, lights and gauzy drapes transformed the university's cafeteria for the $500-per-ticket event. Swanson said the foundation sold about 370 tickets, in addition to several higher-priced sponsorships.
Guests dined on a five-course dinner that included buckwheat blini with smoked salmon, caprese salad, seared scallops and filet and halibut. They were greeted with a signed copy of Palin's autobiography, "Going Rogue," on each seat.
Temporary fences manned by event staff kept protesters outside the interior of the campus. At one point, campus police trying to move some tea party supporters out of the driveway were met with resistance as people pushed on barricades.
Protesters and supporters at one point argued with each other, prompting police to put up more barricades around the scene.
Fred Herman, former chairman of the Stanislaus County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, took part in the protest.
"We're not here to bad-mouth one more gun-loving, woman-hating, anti-tax politician," Herman said. "We protest a political stunt, using a foe of university values to raise funds for educations that disprove most of (Palin's) notions."
Outside of Turlock, Democratic leaders continued to chide the school keeping Palin's fee secret.
"It is quite unfortunate that while the university has eliminated scholarships for students and raised fees, they feel compelled to line the pockets of Sarah Palin," state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, said Friday. He has pushed the campus to disclose her fee.
Swanson acknowledged the controversy over both Palin's message and the clause in her contract that kept her speaking fee confidential. But he said the foundation wouldn't hesitate to sign any other figures that would generate debate.
University President Hamid Shirvani clarified, "Would we invite anybody who would bring in money? The answer is no. But the university is a marketplace for ideas."
The next most successful fundraiser -- outside of donations for buildings, endowed chairs and the like -- was a concert by actor Gary Sinise's band that grossed $200,000, Swanson said.
A third of the proceeds immediately will go toward scholarships, Shirvani said. He will consult with his development team on what to do with the rest of the money.
"We have so many needs," he said.