His Majesty King Harald V visits Washington State
The Norwegian monarch received an Honorary Doctorate, delivered speeches, and chatted with Norwegian Americans in his first visit to the state in 20 years
Emily C. Skaftun
Norwegian American Weekly
His Majesty King Harald V of Norway really gets around. In 2015 alone he’s visited Myanmar, Australia, and even Antarctica, and now he can add the U.S. states of Washington and Alaska to the list.
The visit to Washington, the first in 20 years, was packed with meetings and speeches. The king met with Governor Jay Inslee, representatives from Norwegian and American tourism companies, and Norwegian-American fishing industry representatives including Sig Hansen of The Deadliest Catch.
At Pacific Fishermen Shipyard in Ballard, King Harald chatted with those in attendance and a lunch of “king” crab was served. Interviewed by NRK at the event, Hansen was visibly moved as he mused about how proud his father would have been to witness this meeting.
Later that evening, His Majesty dined at the Sheraton in Seattle at an invitation-only gala dinner. Some 800 Norwegian Americans listened raptly as Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen and His Majesty spoke in turn about the long-standing and deep connections between the United States and Norway. Harald V is king to five million Norwegians, Owen told us, and also to six million Americans of Norwegian descent, many thousands of whom live in Washington State. Over 12,000 of these belong to Norwegian-American organizations.
The king’s speech touched on the same themes, while adding a personal touch: for King Harald, the United States is home in a very real way. After all, he lived here through the five years of WWII, when he was just a boy. This point is made clear when one hears His Majesty speak English; he does so like a native, and it’s no wonder.
At the king’s public appearances, at Ballard’s Bergen Place and, the following day, at PLU, large crowds gathered well beforehand to await His Majesty, lining up in chilly May weather in their Norwegian sweaters, bunads, or colorful Norwegian flag t-shirts.
The crowds caught a glimpse, but a handful of PLU students got the chance to engage the king in conversation. In English and Norwegian the students—a mix of those with Norwegian heritage, foreign students here from Norway, and those majoring or minoring in Scandinavian Studies or Norwegian—introduced themselves and chatted, somewhat nervously, with His Majesty.
At a luncheon prior to PLU’s graduation, University President Dr. Thomas W. Krise spoke about the University’s quasquicentennial (“a fun word to say”), the school having been founded 125 years ago by Norwegian Lutheran immigrants. In honor of the quasquicentennial and the king’s visit, a scholarship fund has been started, with an impressive $300,000 endowment raised to date.
Krise added that in addition to those five million Norwegians and six million Norwegian Americans, His Majesty is also the “King of PLU.” Everyone, including His Majesty, laughed heartily at this.
It’s easy to miss the king’s sense of humor, only seeing him onscreen or (at least for those of us who are less than fluent) only hearing him speak Norwegian. In person, one can’t help but be charmed by this royal character. As Hansen noted to NRK, “he’s just so genuine.” King Harald even opened his commencement address to PLU with a joke: “When the Queen and I visited PLU 20 years ago, she received an Honorary Doctorate—of which I have been informed quite a few times. I am therefore particularly proud to receive an Honorary Doctorate myself. Finally, the Queen and I are equal—at least on your campus.”
But his speech was also serious. He exhorted students to call upon the same pioneer spirit that motivated the founders of PLU to work toward a better world. “My generation has little to show for itself when it comes to taking care of the environment and our climate. My hope is that your generation will do better.”
With his commencement address concluded, the busy monarch left for the second part of his U.S. visit, in Alaska. We’ll have coverage of those events in the next issue of NAW, so stay tuned!
This article originally appeared in the June 5, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.