First lady Melania Trump received a "Woman of Distinction" award on Wednesday from Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) in Florida, despite concerns from some residents that she was undeserving of the honor
As the award is typically given at the Women of Distinction luncheon to Palm Beach residents who have greatly contributed to the community, some locals have faulted the nominating committee's decision-making process because Trump and her husband, President Donald Trump, have only been official Palm Beach residents since September 2019.
"Our first lady is an exquisite human being, a magnificent wife and life partner, a superb mother and an outstanding first lady, who represents us brilliantly in the United States and worldwide," said event co-chairwoman Eileen Burns in January. "Melania is a perfect example of a Woman of Distinction and we are most proud to honor her."
Some critics of the first lady voiced their disapproval. "This award has historically gone to women whose character and impact in Palm Beach have shaped the culture of our home," PBAU senior Graysen Boehning told The Hill, "and I have not been convinced that the first lady's character or impact here is worthy of that recognition."
"While many students were excited that the school was bringing in the first lady of the United States to speak," Boehning continued, "others felt that her character was not representative of the community of love for people of all backgrounds and beliefs that PBA houses and fosters."
"Why would a woman of no achievements have been selected?" wrote Carol Bodeen in a February letter to the editor of The Palm Beach Post. "We seldom hear from her or see her other than attending state affairs or exiting Air Force One with the president."
"Palm Beach Atlantic University and our Women of Distinction committee enthusiastically endorse this prestigious tribute to First Lady Melania Trump known in America and around the world as an advocate for compassion, kindness and respect, especially to children," said PBA President William M.B. Fleming, Jr. in a statement to Newsweek.
Trump accepted the award in front of a sold-out luncheon where she received standing ovations for her speech, which focused on her Be Best campaign, an initiative aimed towards enriching the lives of American children.
"Technology has become a daily part of our children's lives in both positive and negative ways," Trump said about her program's efforts to keep children safe online. "We live in an age where too many people allow the number of retweets or likes to define their self-worth. I am convinced now more than ever that teaching healthy online behavior is crucial to securing a safer future for our children."
President Trump announced his decision to move from New York to Florida in October 2019, citing unfair treatment from "political leaders" as a reason.
"1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House, is the place I have come to love and will stay for, hopefully, another 5 years as we MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN," the president tweeted, "but my family and I will be making Palm Beach, Florida, our Permanent Residence."
"I cherish New York, and the people of New York, and always will," Trump continued, "but unfortunately, despite the fact that I pay millions of dollars in city, state and local taxes each year, I have been treated very badly by the political leaders of both the city and state. Few have been treated worse."
"I hated having to make this decision, but in the end it will be best for all concerned. As President, I will always be there to help New York and the great people of New York. It will always have a special place in my heart!" he added.
Trump also launched the Evangelicals for Trump movement at a Palm Beach County church in January to rally his Christian base ahead of his reelection campaign. That first coalition meeting encountered opposition in the form of an open letter from some members of the Florida clergy.
"We need more than a sermon on your Christian values," the January letter read, "we need you to act on those proclaimed values to uplift the poor, help the sick, and love thy neighbor. A person who cannot stay true to their values has no place in the Oval Office and you, [President Trump], do not have the moral fortitude to deserve our support."
Update (2/20/2020, 4:00 p.m.): This article has been updated to include a comment from Palm Beach Atlantic University.