February 24th, 2009
03:32 PM ET
6 years ago

Three guests in first lady box revealed

 Then-first lady Laura Bush stands with her guests before the 2004 State of the Union address.
Then-first lady Laura Bush stands with her guests before the 2004 State of the Union address.

(CNN) - The White House announced Monday three of what may be at least two dozen guests in the first lady's box at President Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.

The guests include an eighth-grader who wrote a letter to congressmen appealing for help in rebuilding her deteriorating school, a Miami banker who gave away $60 million of his own money to his employees, and a Miami-area bank teller.

Ty'Sheoma Bethea, an eighth-grader at the J.V. Martin Junior High School in Dillon, South Carolina, received the prized invite after a letter she wrote to lawmakers appealing for help rebuilding her school made its way to President Obama.

Obama referenced the school during his first press conference earlier this month as evidence of crumbling schools across the country.

The White House said Leonard Abess Jr., the banker who gave away $60 million of proceeds he received over the sale of shares of City National Bank in Florida, demonstrates the kind of "responsibility" the president has called for from high-profile financial CEOs.

Geneva Lawson, a 51-year-old bank teller who benefited from Abess' generosity, will also sit with the first lady. According to the Miami Herald, she has worked as a collection teller, payroll teller, savings teller, print shop clerk, and proof/bookkeeping clerk.

The practice of inviting guests to sit in the House Gallery is a tradition dating back to 1982 when president Ronald Reagan recognized Lenny Skutnick - a good Samaritan who pulled a survivor out of the frozen Potomac River in Washington, DC after an Air Florida plane crashed into the 14th Street Bridge.

Since then, presidential administrations steadily increased the number of invitees to the first lady box, often including prominent athletes and celebrities, citizen heroes, members of the military, and individuals likely to benefit from policies proposed by the president.

Last year, first lady Laura Bush hosted 27 guests, including New Orleans jazz musician Irvin Mayfield and registered nurse Tara Kunkel.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also announced Monday hero-U.S. Airways pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger will be a guest in the Speaker's House Gallery box.


Filed under: Obama address
soundoff (189 Responses)
  1. Jon in Ca

    Where's Oprah and Rev Wright? Don't they deserve to have box seats at this event???

    February 24, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  2. Rev. Wright

    I'm still waiting for my invitation.

    February 24, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  3. lived9lives Southern Oregon

    Here's a headline I'd like to see.
    "Leonard Abess Jr. appointed CEO of AIG."

    February 24, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  4. Dignity

    This is one time where less is more ... glad to see just a few folks.

    February 24, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  5. mario

    Maybe this is out of context for this write up, but in any event...

    Why is it that this Cpt. Sullenberger is being herald as a hero in every single politically charged speach? I mean, yes, the man made wise choices under the directon of a great air traffic controller, he landed the plane in an icy hudson river and no one person received major injury or death. But honestly, the captain was doing his JOB, a job that he spent MANY hours training for, and he didnt do anything out of the ordinary that anyone with his responsibilities would have done. He tried to save his passangers as well as his crew and his own.

    This whole thing is a bit annoying already!

    February 24, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  6. ray ray

    QUICK REALITY CHECK:

    Stock Market drops to 7105 this morning.

    When Obama was elected President (11/5/08) it was 9100.

    2000 points (22%) gone – poof – disappeared. THANKS OBAMA!

    February 24, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  7. steve

    I think Senate Democrats should investigate Sen Shelby from Alabama for treasonous act of undermining the president of the united state.
    His questioning Obama's eligibility for been born in Hawaii was appalling and it is a revelation on the republicans attempt to undermine the new commander -in- chief.
    If Shelby has a problem that his father was from Kenya and her mother an American, while wouldn't he have the same gripe with Gov Jindal whose parents are Indian immigrants ?

    February 24, 2009 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  8. Elle

    ummm, no offence to Laura but the Bush's are finally gone. Why an old photo of her for an article about our First Lady Michelle Obama?

    February 24, 2009 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  9. STEVE R

    of course that banker is going to be there......

    Obama likes the "Spread The Wealth Around" idea

    I dont understand the "responsibility" from CEO's

    February 24, 2009 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  10. Beverly, NYC

    Okay Oprah, how about showing that HOPE WON, and putting some of those billion towards building or updating a school in one of the 50 states. We have enough millionaires in Hollywood willing to tell the rest of us their opinions, how about adopting one of the 50 states build, or update a school building. If schools are not needed how about medical services. Come on people, to whom much is given much is expected. If Ty Pennington can rebuild a home in 7 days, something like this can be done in 3 months before the school year in September.

    February 24, 2009 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  11. Travis

    A decision like this should be upto the Secret Service and the Air Force. The Air Force would know if the fleet is ready to be replaced now or wait. The SS and Air Force is responsible for the security of the President of the United States. President Bush saw a reason for requesting the fleet. Now we need GAO to make sure that the contractor is not price gouging.

    February 24, 2009 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  12. karen-Phoenix

    Love Michelle!!! And I loved what she did with the culinary students in the kitchen at the White House. The House now truely "The People's House"!!! AND we have a President that is truely "the People's President"!!!

    February 24, 2009 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  13. Samilton

    This lets you know the heart of the new President and the First Lady. Children, the wealthy, and just average struggling American folk.

    I love it! They may not be able to please everybody, but they are doing a hell of a job for the first 30+ days in office.

    It's really all about the tone you set.

    God bless and help America!

    February 24, 2009 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  14. cheryl brooks from cali

    Wish I was there!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 24, 2009 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  15. Steve

    What ever happened to the good old days ?
    Back in the day presidents use to travel by trains.
    Passing through towns they would step out of the back of the last car and wave at all the people.
    A large group would some times gather just for a glimps .
    It was comforting to the people to see and feel the act of careing.
    Diesel is alot cheaper than jet fuel on some of these short trips
    that the president is taken for such a short visit two or three hours in a neighboring state.
    LINCOLN DID IT AS PRESIDENT !
    CUT BACKS ! CUT BACKS !

    February 24, 2009 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  16. Dace Tucson AZ

    It is so great to have intelligent human beings with a heart and mind that love Americans and want to help them in the White House.

    February 24, 2009 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  17. mark

    um, ok.

    February 24, 2009 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  18. Minnesota Man

    Please do not insult President Reagan's memory by mentioning him in the same level as Obama.

    February 24, 2009 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  19. Kevin in Ohio

    Wow, CNN has totally censored any kind of conservative response to prior articles..... I huess so they could put up liberal pablum like this.

    February 24, 2009 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  20. portland

    I'am sorry to say all the problems we have are going to get worse.

    We need a real leader, one who will work for the people of this country.

    I only wish we could get back George Bush.

    February 24, 2009 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  21. Ryan

    What?? REAL people as White House invited guests??

    That's crazy-talk!!! Unheard of!!

    February 24, 2009 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  22. sensible Cape Coral FL

    Gid bless America and the Obama Family/.

    February 24, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  23. JOE

    PLEASE GOD...Can we get rid if the BUSH's...ALL of them including this dingbat with that half baked smile on her face...We are sick of looking at them..

    February 24, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  24. KJ in Dallas, TX

    Finally, we have a beautiful, intelligent, and compassionate First Lady in the White House. Michelle Obama is going to make a real impact while holding her position as First Lady. Looking forward to hearing President Obama's speech tonight. Just hearing his voice, lets me know that things are going to be fine, but it will take time. Also, I'm really tired of the doom and gloom that the republican-owned news media keeps spewing. If anyone is manipulating the Wall-Street clan, it's the Republican-owned news media. You guys are trying your best to tank this economy more-so for ratings and for the sake of your right-wing owners. We're on to you which is why President Obama still has the high approval ratings.

    February 24, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  25. Texas Proud!

    How about inviting me as a guest since I pay my taxes unlike some of those people who do, and who tired to work for Obama!!!!

    Oh yeah, and I'm not a coward!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 24, 2009 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
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