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In the spotlight
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More people across the nation than ever before have some idea where Turlock is located thanks to the national media attention our town and the surrounding area received in 2010.

Our 15 minutes of fame began when the California State University, Stanislaus Foundation decided to invite former vice-presidential candidate and Alaska governor Sarah Palin to speak at one of the university’s 50th Anniversary galas.

The local controversy began almost immediately after the university foundation announced Palin’s appearance. Many university students and faculty thought Palin was too polarizing of a figure to have the honor of speaking at the gala. While this argument stirred up the campus paper and played heavily on local blogs, Turlock’s Palin-gate didn’t really gather steam until State Senator Leland Yee (D – San Francisco) used the high-profile event to bring more attention to Senate Bill 330, a bill requiring university foundations and auxiliaries to comply with the Public Records Act.

In an effort to finally get this transparency bill to pass, Yee focused on Cal State Stanislaus, its relationships to the university’s foundation and the lack of transparency in the Palin speaking contract. From that moment on Cal State Stanislaus (and Turlock) was daily national news.

Television news crews, radio personalities and reporters from all the major regional papers were strolling the streets of Turlock leading up to the June 25 gala, asking anyone who would stop for a minute about their views on Palin and SB 330.

In the weeks and months before the gala, I couldn’t believe the attention this one very normal event was getting. Every university invites speakers to visit for a variety of reasons. And seeing how it is the nature of institutions of higher education to keep the fires of public discourse alive, many of these speakers are controversial in one way or another.

I think the foundation board made a very wise decision in choosing Palin as the June gala speaker. Not only did they raise more money at this one event than they ever have before — $207,000 — but a group of potential students and university supporters now have Stanislaus in their consciousness.

A few months later, Denair Middle School student Cody Alicea decided to put an American flag on the back of his bicycle and ride to school. This seemingly every-day event caused a maelstrom of media coverage when a campus supervisor asked him to take the flag off the bike for his own safety after a few other students complained.

Before you could say “Star Spangled Banner,” television crews, American Legion riders and patriotic citizens, literally, from across the country voiced their displeasure with the school administration. It seemed like every person who had ever waved an American flag or worn red, white and blue decided Denair was the place to be in November.

I have never seen anything quite like it. I understood the hoopla around Palin. She ran for vice president and was governor of Alaska — not to mention how easily entertained national television media are when women politicians shoot guns.

I used to work as a campus supervisor at a local elementary school. Situations like the one at Denair Middle School are a common occurrence. The difference between the hundreds of other conflict situations that happen on school campuses every day and what happened with Cody is one thing — patriotism.

When red-blooded Americans feel the freedoms won by our country’s military men and women are being ignored, then watch out!

While the situation could have developed into something detrimental — or even violent — for everyone in Denair, what the event created was an opportunity for people to remember what is good about America.

This particular story is still unfolding as Cody was asked to accompany Congressman-elect Jeff Denham as he takes the oath of office on Monday in Washington D.C.

2010 definitely put Turlock and Denair on the nation’s radar. It makes me wonder what 2011 will bring. You never know … we could be the next area that sees the crop circle phenomenon! We’ll just have to wait and see.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.