The first lady’s public appearance at the White House was remarkable because until very recently she has been relatively silent. She is noticeably raising her profile amid headlines about her husband’s alleged infidelities.
President Trump, embracing his wife several times during the event, lavished praise on her and sat in the front row for her speech.
“Melania, your care and compassion for our nation’s children, and I have to say this, and I say it to you all the time, inspires us all,” he said when she finished speaking.
Melania Trump has talked about the need to combat cyberbullying before and formalized those efforts as part of her “Be Best” campaign. Her decision to address cyberbullying has drawn considerable attention because her husband flings insults and taunting tweets, and he has been blamed by many people for fanning a divisive online conversation.
“It is our responsibility as adults to educate and remind [children] that when they are using their voices — whether verbally or online — they must choose their words wisely and speak with respect and compassion,” the first lady said.
Without directly mentioning the president, she said last month, “I am well aware that people are skeptical of me talking about this topic.” But the first lady has made clear that she does not intend to stop and plans to travel the country to highlight programs that help children.
As a sign of the importance the first lady is putting on this effort, Vice President Pence, Karen Pence, Ivanka Trump, senior adviser Jared Kushner, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, counselor Kellyanne Conway and other top White House officials attended the event.
“It was an extraordinary display of support — from the president to members of the Cabinet to several family members” said Stephen Balkam, the founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, who also attended. “That was unexpected and remarkable.”
Kurt Newman, president and CEO of Children’s National Medical Center, was also in the Rose Garden and said he was delighted the first lady is taking on important issues including opioid addiction. “I’m thrilled,” he said, adding that the first lady’s office has a unique power to cast a spotlight on problems.
In the past, Michelle Obama used her platform as first lady to promote healthy eating and exercise, and Laura Bush backed literacy efforts.
Melania Trump did not take questions after her remarks, but she did tell the story of a second-grader from Pennsylvania who started a program known as “Buddy Bench.” As the first lady explained, it was a place where children can sit that “signals other students to come over and ask them to play.”
Children are the “the most valuable and fragile among us,” she said.