WASHINGTON — The White House announced Monday that Boston Marathon bombing survivors Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman are among the guests invited to sit with first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday’s State of the Union address.
Openly gay professional basketball player Jason Collins, 16-year-old Joey Hudy of “extreme marshmallow cannon” fame, D.C. teacher of the year Kathy Hollowell-Makle and Moore, Okla., fire chief Gary Bird also have been invited.
Last year, the White House’s guests signaled that health care, the economy, social issues and the tragedies of the previous year were among the priorities of President Obama’s annual address. Guests this year also balances domestic policy, namely education, with a nod to the traumas of 2013.
The guests chosen to sit in the box work as an accurate emotional snapshot of the first year of Obama’s second term as he heads to Congress to lay out his plans for 2014. The photo of Arredondo and Bauman escaping Boylston Street on April 15, 2013 – the former in a cowboy hat, the latter in a wheelchair with a makeshift belt tourniquet above his missing legs – is probably the image that comes to mind when most Americans remember that day.
Arredondo – who met Obama soon after the bombings – remembered the event and summarized his life since in a piece for the Guardian at the end of 2013, saying: “Now, Jeff can walk on prosthetics, and we go to see football together. In fact, we went to Costa Rica with him a couple of weeks ago and spent Thanksgiving with his family this year, too. Celebrating life, you know?”
When Jason Collins, an NBA player who has played for six pro teams, announced that he is gay in the May 6, 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated, he became the first openly gay male athlete playing for an elite sports team in the United States. Obama called Collins, currently an unsigned free agent, soon after the article went online, expressing his support and telling Collins that “he was impressed by his courage.” The first lady tweeted: “So proud of you, Jason Collins! This is a huge step forward for our country. We’ve got your back!” The first lady and Collins also headlined a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in May.
When Moore, Okla., was struck by a tornado on May 20, 2013 – one with peak winds of 210 mph that left 25 people dead – Fire Chief Gary Bird was the one orchestrating rescue crews to find survivors through the debris that used to be thousands of buildings. Original death tolls from the storm were far higher than the final tallies, partly due to the diligence of Bird and his crew. However, the storm was still the deadliest since the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo., that left 158 dead.
Kathy Hollowell-Makle has taught in Washington for 15 years, starting in 1998 as a Teach for America corps member. She was recently named the teacher of the year in the public school system. By the end of 2013, 90 percent of her students tested at proficient or advanced early literacy levels.
In last year’s State of the Union, Obama proposed a $75 billion plan to boost early education spending, a plan that never made it through the difficult budget negotiations that defined Congress in much of 2013. It seems likely that Obama will revisit this policy area Tuesday.