Thank you, Dr. Johnson, for your welcoming words,
I am very pleased to be here at Luther College. A college founded by Norwegians more than 160 years ago. Its first president was Peter Laurentius Larsen – Laur Larsen. He was born in the town of Kristiansand on the southern coast of Norway in 1833. When Larsen grew up, Norway was among the poorest countries in Europe.
And many left for America. Some of them returned home, but the majority of them settled in this new land. Most of them here in the Midwest. Looking for opportunities and a better life.
Such as Niels Johnsen Kaasa from Heddal in Telemark. He left Norway in 1839 and eventually settled in Winnishiek County, Iowa. He ended up as a pastor here in Decorah.
I can imagine the young Niels Kaasa sitting on the top of a hill in his native Telemark in 1839 – before he left for the U.S. Looking out over the village, the valleys, and the countryside.
And what he saw was mostly misery. Poverty. He saw people with small or no chances of social mobility. If you were born poor then, you were destined to become poor for the rest of your life. He saw no hope. No future.
Then I imagine that same Niels Kaasa sitting on top of that same hill in Telemark today. Looking out over the same village, valleys, and countryside. What he would have seen? How he would have reacted? He would have seen much the same landscape, but a completely different country.
He would have seen a country with opportunities. Prosperity. Hope.
He would have seen people with equal chances of social mobility, whether they are born rich or poor. Black or white. Girl or boy. Educated people with all the possibilities in the world to pursue a good life.
Now, Norway is not unique in that sense. Many European countries from where people emigrated, and perhaps in particular the Nordics, have been through a similar transformation. From poverty to prosperity. And although there are many reasons and explanations for that journey, the most important one, I think, can be summed up in one word: Trust.
Trust between people. Trust between rulers and those who are ruled. Trust in the government due to trust in the system of governance.
And I should also add: Trust between nations.
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