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Christian univ. names Melania Trump ‘Woman of Distinction’ for 2020, fmr. student opposes selection

Christian univ. names Melania Trump ‘Woman of Distinction’ for 2020, fmr. student opposes selection

First Lady Melania Trump waves prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship game between the Clemson Tigers and the LSU Tigers at Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 13, 2020, in New Orleans, Louisiana. | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Calling first lady Melania Trump an “exquisite human being,” Palm Beach Atlantic University, a private Christian university in West Palm Beach, Florida, has named her as their “Woman of Distinction” for 2020, citing her “Be Best” campaign. But not everyone in the school community agrees that the first lady should be honored with the award. 

“During its annual Women of Distinction luncheon, Palm Beach Atlantic University honors women who cherish community and family and want to preserve these ideals for others,” the university recently announced. “Women of Distinction 2020 will be held Wednesday, Feb. 19, and will honor the First Lady of the United States Melania Trump."

A report in The Floridian said the first lady was being honored for her work on the “Be Best” campaign she launched in 2017 that focuses on healthy living among children, online bullying and opioid abuse.

“By promoting values such as healthy living, encouragement, kindness, and respect, parents, teachers, and other adults can help prepare children for their futures. With those values as a solid foundation, children will be able to better deal with the evils of the opioid crisis and avoid negative social media interaction,” Melania Trump says in a video about the campaign on the White House website.

Co-chairwoman Eileen Burns told The Floridian that the first lady has represented America well at home and around the world.

“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,” Burns said. “Melania is a perfect example of a Woman of Distinction and we are most proud to honor her.”

However, Kyra Kinnaman, a 2015 graduate of PBAU from Scottsdale, Arizona, said she was “embarrassed” by the school’s decision to bestow the award to the first lady.

“I’m not preaching that Christian universities should not get involved in politics, as PBAU hosted political figures while I was attending school there. I actually hope that others add to this discussion, because selecting Trump as the 2020 Woman of Distinction is a misguided, embarrassing choice at best and a calculated, amoral choice at worst. This negative press will not only affect the reputation of the school, but of those who are now alumni,” Kinnaman wrote in an op-ed for The Palm Beach Post.

She then proceeded to argue that the first lady's actions are inconsistent with the spirit of the award.

“The BE BEST campaign is not consistent with the rest of her actions as first lady. She has never criticized President Donald Trump’s frequent online harassment of many people, notably including 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg — a minor,” Kinnaman wrote.

“This may be a misguided choice by PBAU, who merely chose a first lady as the person to honor since she resides within the qualifying county. However, I am fairly certain that this decision was more calculated and had a fiscal agenda,” she continued.

“Tickets to the Woman of Distinction luncheon are paid, and guaranteeing a seat in the room with the first lady of the United States will no doubt sell a lot of seats. Yes, this money goes to scholarship funds that will benefit female students, but at what point does sacrificing the moral integrity of an institution of higher learning become worth the bottom line?” she added.

The PBAU has hosted the annual Woman of Distinction luncheon for more than 25 years to fund scholarships for deserving female students. The award has usually gone to two women each year but Trump will be the only recipient this year.

“First ladies define the history of our country,” co-chair of the award, Frances Fisher, told The Floridian. “We are honored to recognize Mrs. Trump as a Woman of Distinction and the only first lady since Mrs. Kennedy to be a Palm Beach resident. This will be a truly memorable event.”

Other women who have received the award include Candy Carson, wife of Housing Secretary Dr. Ben Carson; U.S. Ambassador to Finland Bonnie McElveen-Hunter; fashion designer Lilly Pulitzer Rousseau; Barbara Nicklaus, the wife of professional golfer Jack Nicklaus; and Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation founder Nancy Brinker, the publication reported.

“Our people are guided by their Christian values. Our academic offerings are proven and respected by top employers and elite graduate institutions. And our setting in the heart of West Palm Beach brings boundless academic, entertainment, recreational and professional opportunities,” school's website says.

“The Christian world view that permeates our campus, community and culture adds a unique dimension to the PBA learning experience. From its presence in the academic curriculum, to weekly chapel to service learning and mission trips, this faith-based foundation will shape your experience and prepare you with the kind of ethical, principled outlook that today’s employers value,” they add.


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