TURLOCK — If it's possible to feel blessed and bizarre, that's what Courtney Jespersen was experiencing Wednesday. Such was the range of emotions for the 18-year-old valedictorian from Ripon Christian High School as she stood at midafternoon in a conference room at California State University, Stanislaus.
On the positive side, Jespersen was receiving a much-needed $5,000 scholarship. On the believe-it-or-not side, she would be linked to America's No. 1 lightning rod.
"I feel so blessed," Jespersen said of the scholarship.
"It's weird," she said of the presence of reporters and a television camera on hand to chronicle the moment.
But that's what happens when you're linked to former Alaska governor and current tea-party icon Sarah Palin.
Palin's association with the university began in March, when the university announced that the former vice presidential candidate would be the school's guest of honor at its 50th anniversary gala June 25.
She was an unpopular choice among some members of the university's faculty and student body. Opposition grew louder when it was later reported that Palin would be paid $75,000, plus $18,000 in expenses.
Jespersen would be caught in the fray when CSUS's nonprofit foundation, which is paying Palin, canceled a scholarship program that last year provided funding for 28 students. One of those affected was Jespersen, whose 4.44 GPA should have earned her one of those scholarships to the only college to which she applied.
"I was so disappointed," Jespersen said.
Fortunately for her, she wasn't the only one.
Professors at CSU, Stanislaus, embarked on a fund-raising effort, collecting $50 donations from like-minded colleagues. The Stanislaus chapter of the union that represents faculty at the California State University system's 23 campuses decided to match those contributions.
"The faculty of a university, it's really their job to preserve, protect and defend, if you will, the educational mission, the instructional mission of the university," computer science Professor John Sarraillé said.
Communications Professor Nancy Burroughs said of Jespersen, "I think she's going to be a great addition to the student body here."
Professors at Wednesday's gathering were eager to talk politics with the smattering of media on hand. But it wasn't Palin they wanted to discuss. Rather, they spoke on behalf of California Senate Bill 330, a law that would compel public university foundations to comply with state open government laws. Today, they don't have to disclose information that a university would because the foundations are considered nonprofit organizations, not state agencies.
"We have to know where the money is going, and we have to exercise some judgment about whether it's being spent judiciously or not," Sarraillé said.
As Sarraillé, Jespersen and others spoke at the podium, an oversized check was on display nearby. In keeping with the oddness of the day, the check was propped up by a book probably not atop Palin's reading list: "A History of the Chinese Communist Party, 1921-1949."
As much as everyone on hand tried to insist the proceedings were not about Palin, there was no getting around the far-right elephant in the room.
One of the professors on hand was Patrick Kelly. He is the originator of a Facebook page called "Sarah Palin, Terrible Choice for 50th Anniversary of CSU Stanislaus." As of Thursday afternoon, the page had 3,306 members.
"I was so appalled that she would be selected to represent 50 years of educational accomplishment here," Kelly said. "She has no affiliation with the campus. She has no record of accomplishment in education, legislatively or any other way. And also, she's one of the most divisive figures in modern American politics. I saw it as an insult to the institution."
But all of this was of little concern to Jespersen. Money is tight at home, and $5,000 will take care of her freshman year's tuition and fees.
"It's so exciting," she said. "I feel so blessed. It's just amazing. I can't believe it."