The Kennedy Center hosts U.S. Ambassador of Iceland, drawing a crowd

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Picture of the Icelandic flag with mountains in the background. The U.S. Ambassador of Iceland visited the BYU Kennedy Center on Jan. 19. (Pexels.com)
Spanish Fork citizens pose in front of the Icelandic monument. The monument was dedicated in 1938. (Utah State Historical Society)

The U.S. Ambassador of Iceland, Bergdís Ellertsdóttir, discussed climate change and gender equality in an address at the Kennedy Center on Friday, Jan. 19. 

Students and other attendees sat to watch the ambassador give her presentation, filling every seat in the overflow areas outside the room.

The ambassador was touched by the opening prayer, which was offered in Icelandic. 

“I’ve only been here for one and a half days and I constantly have tears in my eyes,” she said.

Utah was home to the first Icelandic settlers who came to North America in the 1850s. Since becoming ambassador, Ellertsdóttir has always wanted to visit, specifically Spanish Fork where there is a monument to Iceland, she said.

When asked how Americans can honor their Icelandic heritage, she said Icelandic people appreciate it when people remember and know their roots.

The Icelandic people are particularly focused on their “genealogical link to Utah” Ellertsdóttir said.

Multiple attendees who had Icelandic heritage were in attendance, as well as students in the Scandinavian Studies program and Old Norse students.

One such attendee, Joseph Everett, a BYU librarian for Family and Local History and Microforms, expressed his interest in Icelandic citizenship and his appreciation for his Icelandic ancestors.

Ellertsdóttir also discussed the benefits of Iceland’s emphasis on gender equality and called it the “red thread through all of (their) politics.”

Women and men work together in their culture to balance the responsibilities of life. Her children seeing women as role models as they grow up is an important part of their development, she said.

Matt Heslop, a former student of the Scandinavian Studies program who is currently studying aviation, said he noticed how the Icelandic side of his family emphasized gender equality in his family history.  

“Crossing the plains is hard, and if it wasn’t for my great, great-grandma saying, ‘Hey, we missed our train stop,’  they would have ended up in California,” Heslop said.

Attendees gather in the overflow area to watch the presentation. It was televised to accommodate more viewers. (Eleanor Lambert)

The people of Iceland, including the prime minister, held a strike about the gender pay gap and gender-based violence in October 2023, highlighting the importance of the issue in their country, according to the Associated Press.

The ambassador’s final piece of advice on the subject was to “involve men and boys in arriving at gender equality,” as all people need to participate for an equitable system to work. 

She also talked about Iceland’s particular concern about global warming, mentioning how Iceland has experienced five volcanic eruptions in only four years.

“It’s being felt,” she said, speaking of climate change. “Not only in Iceland but all over the world.”

Iceland is commonly called the land of fire and ice, Ellertsdóttir said. It would be a shame if it became just the land of fire because of global warming.

While at BYU, Ellertsdóttir also visited the Missionary Training Center and met several missionaries going to Germany and one going to Iceland. 

Ellertsdóttir has served as Iceland’s ambassador to Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland and San Marino, and has served as ambassador to the U.S. since 2019.

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