Anti-cyberbullying advocate set to attend Trump's State of the Union

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Adrian College student Haley Petrowski, an anti-cyberbullying advocate, is attending the State of the Union on Feb. 5, 2019, as the guest of Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton.

Washington — A college student who used her personal experience with cyberbullying to lobby for a change to Michigan law is attending President Donald Trump's State of the Union address.  

Haley Petrowski, a junior at Adrian College will be the guest of Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, at Tuesday's speech. 

Petrowski, 21, said she pressed lawmakers in Lansing to introduce legislation that then-Gov. Rick Snyder signed in December. It designates cyberbullying as a crime punishable by up to 93 days in prison or a $500 fine.

Cyberbullying that is found to cause a victim’s suicide is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The law takes effect in March. 

Petrowski herself was a victim of cyberbullying that led her to attempt suicide in 2014, she said. Elected officials should take heed, she said. 

"Cyberbullying is very apparently happening right now in the government right now, and I want to stress to everyone that we are all on the same team. We’re all here to better our nation, and we’re fighting one another and don’t have to," Petrowski said in an interview. 

"It is so much easier to be kind to someone — to listen to someone with an open mind and open heart than it is to shut them down or talk at them. I hope I can be that representation of that person. I survived my bullies. I did. It was something that almost took my life. And it doesn’t need to happen at all."

Petrowski said she hopes to run for office herself one day, possibly for U.S. Senate. 

"We look up to government officials. I want to be one of them some day and I want generations to look up to them and say, 'Wow, their opinions differ but they are kind and good people.' Because a lot of them are," she said. 

Petrowski said her message isn't aimed at the president, whose Twitter attacks are nearly a daily exercise. 

"This message applies to everyone. At some point in our lives, everyone has been the bully," she said.

"This isn’t for Donald Trump or because there’s people in the Congress or Senate who are mean to one another. This is to spread awareness for the people."

Petrowski is hoping to expand her anti-cyberbullying advocacy to push for stricter measures for cyberbullying in other states. Young people and students can't escape social media, she added.

Walberg met recently with Petrowski and said he was inspired by her courage.

“Cyberbullying is an issue that too often is overlooked but has a major impact on many young people at critical junctures in their life," Walberg said in a statement.

"By using her story and her platform to shine a much-needed light on this problem, Haley is already making a big difference — and is destined for even bigger things.”

Members of Congress often signal their priorities and passions with their choice of guests for the annual State of the Union. 

Other guests attending Tuesday with Michigan members include Philomena Mantella, the incoming president of Grand Valley State University, as the guest of Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township. 

Retired science teacher Jean Buller of Commerce Township is the guest of Rep. Haley Stevens, the Rochester Hills Democrat who sits on the House Science, Space & Technology Committee.

And Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, invited political strategist Glynda C. Carr, who co-founded a group that aims to expand and support the leadership pipeline for black women.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, is bringing Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, invited Cathy Wusterbarth of Oscoda, who is a clean water activist pressing the government to more urgently address toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in the community's drinking water.