It’s not easy, but it can be done. A president can upstage himself at his own inauguration. I know, because I did it.

In 1982 I was scheduled to be inaugurated to the presidency of Bethel College and Seminary. Since Bethel was founded more than a century earlier by Swedish immigrants, and that heritage is still cherished, I invited his Highness, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden to participate. The king graciously agreed to visit campus on my inauguration day.

Celebration and ceremony appropriate to a royal visit were planned. On Inauguration Day my wife and I stepped forward to greet the king and his entourage as the motorcade drew up. From the car emerged a handsome, debonair king and a beautiful queen. Flashbulbs flashed. The band played. Cheers went up. The crowd rushed forward for a closer look, straining the barricades and making the security people anxious.

Through it all the king maintained his composure and regal bearing while being thoughtful and gracious to me. The ceremony and visit went off without a hitch. When the king and queen had departed, the rest of the day’s events and even my great speech seemed anticlimactic. Without a doubt the king, with Queen Silvia, had been the stars at my inauguration.

Let me be quick to say I am pleased to have shared that day with the king. I am grateful for his presence with us. Really, I didn’t—and don’t—mind being upstaged. Especially when it’s by royalty.

Americans are fascinated with royalty, and many of those of Scandinavian descent have a special attraction to King Carl XVI Gustaf because he represents his country so well and so warmly. Still, we understand the power of today’s reigning constitutional monarchy is severely limited and that fundamental decisions are made by the ...

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