Norwegian freshmen meet with former prime minister

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From left, Joachim Reiersen, Olav Brundtland, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Rob Urstein, Miriam Strom Natvig and Marie Fosli (Photo: courtesy Rob Urstein)

This quarter, GRO HARLEM BRUNDTLAND, former prime minister of Norway, has been leading seminars and giving lectures on many weighty topics, including sustainable development, global collaboration and her tenure as president of the World Health Organization

Last week, Brundtland added lunch with three Stanford freshmen – Norwegians all – to her busy schedule as the Mimi and Peter E. Haas Distinguished Visitor at Stanford.

The students who joined Brundtland for lunch at the Faculty Club were: INGERID MARIE FOSLI, of Sola, a coastal town known for its windsurfing; MIRIAM STROM NATVIG, of Oslo, the nation’s capital and most populous city; and JOACHIM REIERSEN, of Haugesund, a historic town dating back to Viking times that is also known for its film festival.

Brundtland’s husband, OLAV BRUNDTLAND, accompanied her to the lunch.

The luncheon conversation was mostly in English, but Natvig took the opportunity to converse in Norwegian while she and Brundtland were waiting in the buffet line.

“Sharing our observations in our mother tongue emphasized to me the importance of making one’s background a resource in whatever work one wishes to do for the world, as Gro has definitely done,” Natvig said.

During the lunch, Brundtland asked the students how they had ended up at Stanford and what they were getting out of the experience.

“I was both humbled and amazed to find that she took such a great interest in us at a time when we are just starting our journeys, which we can only hope will be half as impactful as hers,” Natvig said. “It is also very inspiring to know and to experience how she is so very committed to global issues and at the same time so obviously in touch with our home country.”

Stanford’s Dean of Freshmen ROB URSTEIN, who arranged and attended the lunch, has a special connection to Norway. During the 2000-2001 academic year, he served as a Fulbright Senior Scholar with the Norwegian Ministry of Education. At the time, he was on a sabbatical from San Francisco University High School, where he served as chair and instructor in the English Department.

Urstein, now associate vice provost for undergraduate education at Stanford, was a “roving scholar” in Norway, visiting different towns and cities to lecture on topics in American culture, language and history to groups of faculty members and students.

Brundtland, a physician, scientist and former United Nations special envoy on climate change, currently serves as the deputy chair of The Elders, a group of world leaders convened in 2007 by the late Nelson Mandela and others to tackle some of the world’s toughest issues.

Under the Distinguished Visitor program, Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service brings individuals to campus who have had significant public impact in their home country or abroad, and who have distinguished themselves in public service.

On March 12, Brundtland delivered the Distinguished Visitor Lecture: “From Public Health to Sustainable Development in an Interconnected World: A Life in Public Service.”

—KATHLEEN J. SULLIVAN