January 28th, 2014
05:23 PM ET
6 months ago

Ordinary Americans often heralded at State of the Union

(CNN) - For more than 30 years, a handful of lucky individuals are chosen to sit with the first lady during the State of the Union address.

Some are heroes, others are smiling examples of a president's policies. Still more represent small businesses or local school programs in small towns in politically important states.

How did the tradition begin?

In 1982, Lenny Skutnik, a government employee, became the first person to be invited to the presidential box as a guest of the President and the first lady at the State of the Union address.

Skutnik was picked by President Ronald Reagan just days after he dove into the icy Potomac River to rescue a passenger from a deadly airline crash in January 1982.

Reagan used Skutnik's heroism to make a point about the American spirit.

"Just two weeks ago, in the midst of a terrible tragedy on the Potomac, we saw again the spirit of American heroism at its finest, the heroism of dedicated rescue workers saving crash victims from icy waters," Reagan said. "We saw the heroism of one of our young government employees, Lenny Skutnik, who, when he saw a woman lose her grip on the helicopter line, dived into the water and dragged her to safety."

Since, each guest is selected to illustrate a point a President hopes to make during the annual speech to Congress.

Imagery of wounded soldiers, brave children, or everyday Americans who have achieved, endured or, like Skutnik, acted selflessly is used to strengthen the narrative.

This year, survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing and the devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, will be granted the honor.

Openly gay former NBA player Jason Collins will also be joining the first lady for the speech, a nod to President Barack Obama's focus on gay rights in the midst of Russia's anti-gay laws and the upcoming Sochi Olympics.

Members of Congress also highlight issues important to them with who they invite to the State of the Union address.

While some bring their spouses, others bring those who illustrate policies important to them.

For example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, will bring an 11-year-old political activist. And Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Washington, and Charles Rangel, D-New York, will bring family members of Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen being held in North Korea.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Joe Wilson

    YOU LIE!!!

    I've been trying to warn you America. Don't you regret not listening to me now that you have a little mini-dictator on your hands?

    January 28, 2014 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  2. Silence DoGood

    @Joe Wilson
    YOU LIE!!!
    I've been trying to warn you America. Don't you regret not listening to me now that you have a little mini-dictator on your hands?
    -----------–
    How dose this relate at all to the article? I love knee jerk conservatives, really.
    The first act of a mini-dictator clearly is to invite 30 lucky people to the State of the Union address.
    ACA – Ob-b-b-ama um Baaaad.
    State of the Union – O-o-ob-bama – baaaaad.
    Obama visits a school – but OBBBB_B_Bamma – b-b-aaad
    Obama decries violence in Syria – Obaaaama um um baaaaaaad
    Obama picks a flower – Obaammaa b-b-b-baaad

    January 28, 2014 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  3. Tommy G

    Will they be taking a few moments during the speech to give Obama his award for being named Liar of the Year? Surely he must be looking forward to collecting this prestigious award and placing it next to his unearned Nobel prize!

    January 28, 2014 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  4. Harold Read

    How about the "immigration advocate" that Obana invited to the State is The Union Address?
    – knowingly supports criminals who have entered the country illegally
    – performing blatant acts of treason and conspiracy against the United States for encouraging and supporting criminals who have entered the country illegally
    – willing to further bankrupt the country to benefit criminals who entered the country illegally.

    US Code 8 Section 1325. It is the law.

    January 28, 2014 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    "YOU LIE!!!
    I've been trying to warn you America. Don't you regret not listening to me now that you have a little mini-dictator on your hands?
    ---––
    How dose this relate at all to the article?"
    ====

    It conveniently reminds us all just how rude and disrespectful the GOP/Teatrolls think they can behave towards the office of POTUS if it happens to be filled by a black guy.

    January 28, 2014 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  6. Silence DoGood

    @Harold Read "US Code 8 Section 1325. It is the law."
    -----------
    Just like the ACA. You law-abiding guy, you.

    January 28, 2014 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  7. don in albuquerque

    Tommy G

    Naw, he is waiting on the dinner where Palin receives hers.

    January 28, 2014 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  8. Sniffit

    "criminals who entered the country illegally"

    Given your constant refrain, I take it you incorrectly believe that illegally entering the country is a crime? You'd be wrong...it's a civil offense...but please proceed. I feel like you left off right where you were going to get to the really good parts that would offend the Hispanic community and yet again reveal the GOP/Teatrolls' true colors. Don't halfass it, brosef...follow through. OUTREACH!

    January 28, 2014 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  9. don in albuquerque

    Harold Read

    Sounds like your talking about "W". Except you left out murdered thousands upon thousands.

    January 28, 2014 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  10. just asking

    will anybody be bringing one of the many millions of americans that got screwed over by obama and the demorcats and lost their healthcare plan and is now paying more??? didn't think so.

    January 28, 2014 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  11. Silence DoGood

    @don in albuquerque
    Harold Read
    Sounds like your talking about "W". Except you left out murdered thousands upon thousands.
    ------–
    After seeing " performing blatant acts of treason and conspiracy against the United States" and "willing to further bankrupt the country" I was going with Cruz, myself.

    January 28, 2014 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  12. Silence DoGood

    @Sniffit
    "criminals who entered the country illegally"

    Given your constant refrain, I take it you incorrectly believe that illegally entering the country is a crime? You'd be wrong...it's a civil offense...but please proceed. I feel like you left off right where you were going to get to the really good parts that would offend the Hispanic community and yet again reveal the GOP/Teatrolls' true colors. Don't halfass it, brosef...follow through. OUTREACH!
    ---------
    Now that the GOP has reduced their women's vote considerably, I think it is high time to alienate (sorry) other groups too. Yes, go for it.

    January 28, 2014 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |