In Sevnica, Slovenia, Melanija Knavs as child would exchange notes with friends along the lines of yarn they strung between their apartment block balconies. In clear handwriting, Melanija scripted about the boys of her dreams.
And today, she is married to one of the most powerful men of the world. Melanija Knavs is now known as Melania Trump, and she is one election away from being the first foreign-born first lady since John Adams’ wife, Louisa. She is to address millions of Americans on Monday night in a televised speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Melania grew up with a modest childhood on the banks of the River Sava, where her father sold car parts and her mother worked for a factory that made children’s clothing. Melania was often working hard as well, sewing late into the evening at home.
“She was a very good student,” Mirjana Jelancic, a former classmate, adding that her friend’s favorite subject was geography. Melania was known for being reserved and attentive, yet stunningly beautiful amongst her peers, as she is now by Trump’s side during the presidential election.
“I was leaving a fashion show in Ljubljana and saw her in front of the building. She was probably waiting for a friend,” said Slovenian photographer Stane Jerko. “She was tall and slim so she caught my eye and I approached her and suggested that she come in for a trial photo shoot.”
Jerko says the resulting black-and-white pictures of the 17-year-old known then as Melanija Knavs – round face, bare feet, hair in a ponytail – launched a career that would take her to Milan and the United States, where she met Donald Trump at a party in New York in 1998. The two would later marry in 2005, and would have their ten year-old-son Barron.
Melania may not be in the political spotlight 24/7, but the woman is a hard worker who built up her career, became a naturalized immigrant, and continues to aspire young women around the world to follow suit.