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A Brush With Royalty

City School Hosts Norwegian King

By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2005; Page B01

Most days, Dennis Sanchez, a sixth-grader at Thomson Elementary School in Northeast Washington, dresses in the school's uniform -- a red blazer, white shirt and gray pants.

But when he learned that the king and queen of Norway were coming to his school yesterday, Sanchez went out and got duds he thought were more fit for royalty: a tuxedo, complete with black studs, cuff links and a bow tie.

Dennis Sanchez and Irene Quinonez greet Norway's King Harald V and Queen Sonja. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

As King Harald and Queen Sonja listened to him deliver a brief description of Norway's monarchy, Dennis asked a question that got almost as much attention as his outfit.

"Does all that power affect you?" the youngster asked, fixing his gaze up at the one and only king he had ever met.

"I hope not," the king replied. His entourage, including D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, bent forward in full chortle.

Harald V was the first king to visit a D.C. public school since the Board of Education initiated a program 30 years ago to promote ties between the school system and foreign governments, according to Susan Deerin, the coordinator of the Embassy Adoption Program.

Gladys Camp, the principal of Thomson, was adamant that her otherwise drab, brick building -- a temporary headquarters while the school's home is being renovated -- look appropriate for the visit. A red carpet lay in the entrance, held down with matching red duct tape. "This is never going to happen again," Camp said, a camera slung over her shoulder and a video camera in her hand as she awaited the royal couple's motorcade.

The king and queen stopped at Thomson after eating lunch with President Bush and first lady Laura Bush at the White House. The king had lived at the White House for several months as a child when President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited his family to stay after they fled Nazi-occupied Norway.

The family subsequently lived for several years in Bethesda, where the king went to school, said Christian Hansson, a public affairs officer for the Royal Norwegian Embassy.

If the king's visit to Thomson prompted any memories of his childhood, it was impossible to know. He made no public remarks, and a gaggle of security officers kept reporters too far away to ask questions.

The royal couple stepped from their limousine to shake hands with the mayor, who wore a bright red bow tie for the occasion. He escorted the king and queen past a couple of dozen kids who cheered and waved Norwegian flags.

In the lobby, two violinists and a cellist played a Norwegian waltz while the royal couple glanced at their portraits, as rendered by students in crayon, which hung beneath an enormous welcoming banner.

In the auditorium, the mayor applauded while an aide presented the king with the District's new ceremonial key to the city, which is now paid for with private funds after its $2,000 price tag prompted criticism from the D.C. Council. Queen Sonja was given a brooch.

After listening to the school choir sing the national anthems for the United States and Norway, the mayor ushered the couple to Room 110, where they listened to students talk about their classroom projects.

Jonathan Brown, 12, held the royal couple's attention with his rap version of a Norwegian fairy tale about a girl trying to save a goat from a troll. The queen nodded to the rhythm. The king's lips formed a small, unflinching smile.

A few feet away, Dennis Sanchez basked in his tuxedo, which his mother had paid $90 to rent. "Amazing," the youngster said of his brush with royalty. "I never met someone so important like that."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company