'I was honored': Central student, creator of buddy bench, shakes president's hand

Maria Yohn
York Dispatch
Christian Bucks, 12, who spearheaded the buddy bench idea that went viral across the nation, was invited to attend the Monday, March 7 launch of Melania Trump's "BE BEST" campaign.

When Christian Bucks came up with the idea of using a buddy bench to bring children together in 2013, he never dreamed he would someday be shaking hands with the president of the United States.

That's exactly what happened Monday, May 7, during a ceremony launching the first lady's "Be Best" initiative in the White House Rose Garden. The initiative is three-pronged and focuses on well-being, promoting positivity on social media and fighting opioid abuse. 

Christian and his family had been invited to the event by first lady Melania Trump's policy director. When they took their place behind President Trump in the audience, they never dreamed that the boy's name would be called out during the speech.

"I was really, really amazed and shocked," he said.

More:White House honors York County’s ‘buddy bench’ creator

The buddy bench: Christian is no stranger to promoting his buddy bench idea, as he has been doing so ever since he invented it when he was 8 years old. At the time, he was a second-grader at Roundtown Elementary School.

His family had been pondering a move to Germany then, and Christian was looking at international schools online. One particular school he looked at had a bench in the playground, and Bucks thought a similar bench could be useful in helping children who were lonely at recess. 

"I know that kids should have fun at recess," he said, but observed students at his school who clearly were not. 

His family ultimately decided against an international move, but the buddy bench idea remained in Christian's mind. He suggested the idea to his teacher, and later to his principal. Both individuals encouraged him to present the buddy bench idea to his whole school.

Christian Bucks, 12, is shown here sitting on a buddy bench that he promotes across the country.

His mother, Alyson Bucks, said her son never told her about his idea until it was officially approved at the school.

"He didn't really say anything to me. He took that initiative on his own," she said.

"I was proud that he had the compassion and empathy for other kids to see the need for that, “she said.

It was ultimately approved, and a bench was placed in the playground where students could sit if they felt lonely and needed a friend. Students who walked by and saw a child sitting on the bench would have no doubt that they were looking for a friend and didn't simply want some alone time.

However, it didn't take long for the buddy bench idea to take off across the state and eventually across the nation.

"It just spread from there," Christian said. 

Now a sixth-grader at Sinking Springs Elementary School, Christian and his parents have traveled all over the country promoting his buddy bench.

Over the years, the popularity of the buddy bench never ceases to catch him off guard.

"All I thought was that it would be at my school," he said. "Never in my mind did I think it would spread from there." 

The invitation: The Bucks family was contacted by the first lady's policy director a week before her event, but very little was said about the content of her speech, Alyson Bucks said. 

All the family knew was the first lady was inspired by the buddy bench story and had invited the family to attend.

"She came across the bench story and was touched by it and wanted him to be a part of the day," she said. 

First lady Melania Trump speaks on her initiatives during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, May 7, 2018, in Washington. The first lady gave her multipronged effort to promote the well-being of children a minimalist new motto: "BE BEST." The first lady formally launched her long-awaited initiative after more than a year of reading to children, learning about babies born addicted to drugs and hosting a White House conversation on cyberbullying. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

However, they thought they were going to attend as private spectators and not be singled out at any point during the event. Alyson Bucks knew they were wrong before the first lady even spoke, because she saw her son's name on the teleprompter. 

After she mentioned him, she asked Christian to stand up. He did so, and President Trump shook his hand.

"It was pretty surreal," she said.

Alyson Bucks said that they were later contacted by the first lady's policy adviser for the second time. She said she would be in touch with them at a later date, but offered few details. 

Whether Christian and his buddy bench will play a further role in the first lady's campaign will remain a mystery for now, but he's still thrilled about being recognized in her speech.

"I was honored," he said.