State of the Union: Who will sit with Michelle Obama?

More than 20 guests will sit with Michelle Obama while her husband, President Obama, delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday night. The guests offer clues to the content of his speech. 

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File
Alan Gross, seen here speaking to the press at his lawyer’s office in Washington in December 2014, returned home last month after spending five years imprisoned in Cuba. He will have a prime viewing spot for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address: a seat near first lady Michelle Obama.

Alan Gross, the US government subcontractor who was imprisoned in Cuba for five years, and his wife will sit with first lady Michelle Obama during the president’s State of the Union address Tuesday.

So, too, will astronaut Scott Kelly – who is about to join the International Space Station for a year-long mission and is the twin brother of retired astronaut and gun-control activist Mark Kelly.

Other White House guests at the State of the Union include the president and CEO of CVS Health, a climate change researcher, a "DREAMer" and immigration advocate, a doctor who has treated Ebola patients in West Africa, a wounded warrior, and a host of presidential letter-writers – many of them young – who exemplify elements of President Obama’s agenda.

Taken together, these guests offer clues to the content – and applause lines – of Mr. Obama’s sixth State of the Union speech. One clear theme will be education, including the push for greater access to community college. Others are health care, immigration, and an improving economy.

“Stories like these give us reason to start the new year with confidence,” Obama said in his weekly address Saturday, in which he gave an advance look at some State of the Union guests.

Here’s the full list of guests, who will sit with Mrs. Obama; Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden; and senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Malik Bryant (Chicago) – letter-writer. Malik is a seventh-grader who lives on the South Side of Chicago and told the president, “All I ask for is for safety I just wanna be safe.”

Chelsey Davis (Knoxville, Tenn.) – student, Pellissippi State Community College. In May, Ms. Davis will graduate from community college and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nutritional science.

William Elder Jr. (Englewood, Colo.) – medical school student. As a child, Mr. Elder was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, but his life expectancy has improved, and he plans to become a family practitioner.

LeDaya Epps (Compton, Calif.) – laborer apprentice. Ms. Epps completed a union apprenticeship in construction and now has a union job building the new Crenshaw/LAX light-rail line.

Rebekah Erler (Minneapolis) – letter-writer.  Ms. Erler is a working mother and wife who took out loans to attend a local community college for career retraining. Her husband, whose construction business went under, is also back on his feet professionally, now working in home remodeling.

Victor Fugate (Kansas City, Mo.) – letter-writer. Mr. Fugate can afford his student loans because of the Income-Based Repayment Plan and has health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Retired Staff Sgt. Jason Gibson, US Army (Westerville, Ohio) – letter-writer, wounded warrior. Staff Sergeant Gibson lost both legs in Afghanistan and is now – with help from a local nonprofit – living in a specially designed home with his wife and baby girl.

Alan and Judy Gross (Washington, D.C.) – US worker freed from Cuban prison. Mr. Gross was freed on Dec. 17 after five years in a Cuban prison. That same day, Obama announced plans to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba.

Nicole Hernández Hammer (Southeast Florida) – mother and sea-level rise researcher. Ms. Hammer works with Moms Clean Air Force to promote public awareness of climate change on children’s health.

Capt. Scott Kelly (Houston) – astronaut. In March, Captain Kelly will launch to the International Space Station and live there for a year, conducting research experiments. In addition, scientists will compare medical data from Kelly and his twin brother, Mark, on the effect of long periods in space. This research will support Obama’s goal of sending humans to Mars by the 2030s, the White House says.

Anthony Mendez (New York City) – student, “Reach Higher” initiative. Mr. Mendez, living in a homeless shelter, became the first member of his family to graduate from high school. Now he’s a freshman at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. He exemplifies Mrs. Obama’s “Reach Higher” initiative.

Larry Merlo (East Greenwich, R.I.) – president and chief executive officer, CVS Health. Last year, Mr. Merlo announced his company’s decision to become the first major retail pharmacy to eliminate tobacco sales.

Katrice Mubiru (Novato, Calif.) – letter-writer, career technical education teacher. Ms. Mubiru teaches in the Los Angeles Unified School District and wrote to the president about students with technical training finding work in health care.

Astrid Muhammad (Charlotte, N.C.) – letter-writer. Ms. Muhammad was diagnosed with a brain tumor, but because of the ACA, was still able to secure health coverage and have surgery.

Kathy Pham (Washington, D.C.) – US Digital Service. She is applying skills learned in the private sector to improve health information technology in the public sector.

Catherine Pugh (Baltimore) – Maryland Senate majority leader. She is a small-business owner and president-elect of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.

Carolyn Reed (Denver) – letter-writer, small business owner. She was able to expand her business, a local chain of sub shops, with a loan from the Small Business Administration. Earlier this month, she gave her employees a raise.

Pranav Shetty (Washington, D.C.) – International Medical Corps. Dr. Shetty is the organization’s global emergency health coordinator. Last August, he traveled to Liberia to establish and oversee two Ebola treatment units. Later this week, he heads back to set up a treatment center in Guinea.

Capt. Phillip Tingirides (Irvine, Calif.) – Los Angeles Police Department. Since 2011, Captain Tingirides has spearheaded the Community Safety Partnership (CSP) in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. There has been a 50 percent reduction in violent crime, in part because of CSP, the White House says.

Prophet Walker (Carson, Calif.) – Watts United Weekend, co-founder. After serving time in prison, Mr. Walker got a college degree and now works as a construction engineer and engages in community service.

Tiairris Woodward (Warren, Mich.) – auto worker. Ms. Woodward began working for Chrysler in 2010, and through Chrysler’s Tuition Assistance Plan, she is working on her bachelor’s degree.

Ana Zamora (Dallas) – letter-writer, student, DREAMer. Ms. Zamora is a beneficiary of Obama’s 2010 program of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, sometimes known as DREAMers. Because she has siblings who are US citizens, her parents are now eligible for the president’s new program of deferred action benefiting some illegal immigrants. 

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.