Arts and Entertainment Editor
A few of us senior girls stood at the bottom of the Haggar Center stairs. All of us dressed to the nines, adorned in starched but neutral-colored dresses that reached below the knees. Never had I seen any of these seniors wear that much powder and lipstick. Do twenty-somethings wear powder and lipstick anymore? Looking older and sophisticated beyond our years, we pondered a great question: “So, do you know where this thing is?”
Setting aside our uncertainties, we ascended the steps, heels clicking and echoing above the noise in the university center and made our way to upstairs Haggar, which had been transformed into a dining area fit for Prince Nikolaus and Princess Margaretha of Liechtenstein, who made a short visit to the University of Dallas in the fleeting days of November.
We were among a select group of university administrators, board members, friends of the university, faculty and students leaders invited to a luncheon in honor of the royal couple.
The luncheon, scheduled to begin at noon, got off to a late start. Where were the prince and princess? Where were the trustees and a handful of professors from the philosophy and theology departments? Perhaps a symposium featuring the royal couple that preceded the luncheon ran over time; a good sign, I thought to myself, and very typical at the University of Dallas. A philosophical conversation never ends early.
The dining room had been transformed into a comfortable but exquisite luncheonette. Five circular tables, each adored in white tablecloths, offered service for seven. Name cards on each table established the seating order and the not-so-understated service order was made clear with six eating utensils for each person along with seven modest-sized salads and seven pieces of raisin cake. This was an invitation-only event for 35 people including 6 students, the closest extension of what the University of Dallas is all about.
More guests arrived and more small talked ensued. I spoke with several professors and members of the board I had never met; our polite conversation always directed itself towards the philosophy of education, the royalty, or a combination of both.
When Prince Nikolaus and Princess Margaretha did arrive, trumpets did not herald their presence nor did the anthem of Liechtenstein. In fact, I did a double take when they entered the room. There they were, smiling and chatting with Sybil Novinski among others. The princess wore a cream-colored suit with a scarf the same color draped over her. Her husband wore a gray suit, no doubt tailored specially for him. Their dress might have understated their stately positions, but their modest presence emitted something extraordinary.
No one flocked towards the two. The students, including myself, kept our distance and watched how others gently but respectfully interacted with the couple. Dr. William Frank of the philosophy department told me how impressed they were with the university’s students: “Both Prince Nikolaus and Princess Margaretha remarked to me and my wife on the students’ thoughtfulness and courtesy. They noticed how University of Dallas students distinguished themselves with their genuine interest and intelligent remarks.”
I’m happy to know that my brains and manners, along with my classmates’, were more important than powder and lipstick.
Led by others, Prince Nikolaus walked towards his table and pulled out his wife’s chair before sitting down himself. Before the meal began, Provost James Berry gave a small speech thanking the couple for visiting the university and warmly wishing them safe travels. Father Don Novak, the school chaplain, led the blessing of the meal.
Though I did not get to sit with the prince and the princess, I thoroughly enjoyed the three-course meal. Between the starting course and the dessert were chicken and vegetables. I pondered if the university knew the preferences of the prince and princess, or if such a meal was a safe satisfier for guests. More delightful than the delicious meal were those at my table. I finally met the poplar Frank and his wife. I also sat with John Norton, vice president of Student Government and a student ambassador, for the first time in four years. Three benefactors filled the three remaining seats at our table.
One of the three was a gentleman sporting a bow-tie and exuding wisdom that often accompanies a long life. He greeted me as if I were royalty and asked where I worked, yet another sign that most of the students looked and acted older than their 21 years. He looked utterly surprised when told I was a student. He did not get a chance to introduce himself because he was summoned by another guest. Senior history major Madeline Klem shared my sentiments: “I have no idea who that man is. But he is positively adorable.”
As it turned out, that man was Peter Stewart, the founder of the Thanks-Giving Square Foundation, the primary reason the prince and princess was in Texas. According to its website, “Thanks-Giving Square serves as a common ground, a sanctuary, where there can be a confluence of faiths and traditions in discussion of shared concern. In Dallas, Thanks-Giving Square is a central meeting place where citizens from diverse backgrounds can use thanksgiving as a way to heal divisions and enhance mutual understanding.” Stewart has much to be proud of. While I may have put on airs, this man remained humble and out of the spotlight during our brief time together.
Frank summarized the event: “The luncheon on Wednesday was a lovely event. What was most interesting about it for me was the conversation at our table. Therese and I were privileged to sit at table with Mr. Peter Stewart … We spoke a great deal about the spirit of gratitude and the little things that one might do to extend the spirit to our neighbor.”
Every now and then, I slightly twisted my head away from the conversation to watch the prince and the princess, who sat at the table left of mine. I wasn’t alone. All eyes and heads made their way to the royal couple at some point but the guests from Europe hardly noticed; they ate, smiled, and occasionally spoke with those at their own table.
Stephanie Templeton, special assistant to President Thomas Keefe, said conversation at their table was jovial and light-hearted “Those that sat with the prince and princess in particular had a good time discussing topics such as children, skiing, and traveling.”
Senior Madison Milkin later told me that they hardly said a word, “Jean Weaver, [the administrative assistant for Keefe] a woman totally Texan, used her humor and southern charm on them. She had them laughing throughout the entire meal.”
After a closing prayer, guests began to scatter: professors and to classes, board members to appointments, and the prince and princess to prepare for another destination. Before leaving, many guests paid their respects. Frank place a book in the prince’s hands.
In the queue with Christian Howard and Madeline Klem, I wanted to say something small (and likely forgettable) to the prince and princess before I resumed my ordinary day of classes and work. At last, the princess briefly but kindly spoke with us. We thanked her for visiting, and she thanked us in return, “Thank you for your generosity. You are at a very special school.”
I was taken aback by how delightful her English was, especially with her German accent blending in. She turned her attention towards Christian, the managing editor of University News, who was to interview the royals before their departure.
“Should I go get,” the princess paused for dramatic effect, “my husband?”
The four of us laughed. In that small instant, I saw that beneath the prim suit and the Jackie Kennedy hairdo, the princess had a delightful sense of humor. With a job such as hers, one filled with meetings and conferences, humor must be a crucial ingredient. The princess fidgeted with her purse to look at her Blackberry phone. The prince joined her in short time, and, thanking him, I shook his hand. He wore his constant smile and nodded at me.
My encounter with the two may have lasted no longer than 47 seconds, but in those moments I saw how genteel and good-natured they were as royalty, and more importantly, as individuals.