Vanessa Kerry’s long, strange trip

Megan Angelo

The curly-haired boy in the third row has been straining his head towards the door for almost an hour. “If we get to meet her, I’m gonna be like an eighth grader asking a girl to dance,” he says with a giddy laugh.

Along with about 120 other students, faculty members and locals, he is waiting for Vanessa Kerry, 27, the younger, blonder daughter of presidential candidate John Kerry.

Moments later, she bursts into the room, apologizing over and over for arriving 40 minutes late. She really can’t stand tardiness, she says.

Starstruck, her fan in the third row is grinning to show that he’s already forgiven her. As Kerry launches into her speech on prescription costs, tuition hikes and the war, he is half listening, half falling in love.

It’s reactions like his that Kerry still hasn’t gotten used to after months on the campaign trail. “Just seeing this many people show up for me, I’m stunned,” she says, shaking her head. “I mean, I’m just the kid. Publicity – I find all that very uncomfortable.”

But she seems perfectly at ease with the microphone as she paces and points, occasionally borrowing a bobbing thumb-in-fist gesture from her dad, who borrows it from President Clinton. The Harvard medical student fields a pointed question about John Edwards’ history with malpractice suits without batting an eyelash – clearly, she’s seen tougher crowds.

“There was one university in New York – it was very conservative, that’s all I’ll say,” she says, trying to recall the most menacing audience she has encountered while campaigning. “From the moment the first question was asked, I knew I was in trouble. You could just tell they were out there to trip me up.”

Anyone who caught Kerry and her sister, Alexandra, on the MTV Video Music Awards in August might expect her to remember that night as one of her most difficult appearances. Audience members booed loudly as the two girls steadily delivered a short address to youth voters.

But Kerry doesn’t even acknowledge that part of the episode. She discusses the VMAs brightly, giggling as she remembers spotting Beyonce in the crowd. “I thought I was going to throw up. It was exhilarating, it was crazy – but at the same time, it was like, ‘What am I doing here?'”

She keeps brushes with the celebrity scene to a minimum, mainly because she doesn’t like to dress up. “Basically, I’m in jeans and flip-flops. I’m as casual as I can get, and when I do get dressed up, I like it for about ten minutes.”

Her indifference to haute couture is something the press can’t accept, it seems. Magazines and newspapers have declared her linked to several chic-chic fashion designers, but it’s all fabricated, according to Kerry.

“I don’t think I own a single thing by Marc Jacobs, but apparently he’s my favorite,” she says. She says she would rather pick through the racks at Salvation Army – she recently “got in trouble” for wearing a dress she bought there for $2.49 to a Hollywood fundraiser.

That’s something she might not get away with should she become first daughter, Kerry admits. She believes the press frenzy already whirling around her is only a fraction of what she’ll experience if her title gets an upgrade. “It will be a huge step up. I mean, I arrive at school and there’s an article about me being there in the paper, but it’s different than having people keep up with your every move.”

Whether she’ll return to Harvard next semester under greater media scrutiny remains to be seen. For now, she’ll enjoy the final days of what has been her life on the road: “Lots of coffee. Lots of ice cream, preferably Dairy Queen. And great adventures. Really, it’s such a privilege.”