Staying true to tradition, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will host a number of special guests at Tuesday’s State of the Union address, a practice that both hints at what the president will highlight and elevates his points as he makes anecdotal references, telling the stories of a select few in Mrs. Obama’s guest box.
According to the White House, the guests convey “who we are as Americans: inclusive and compassionate, innovative and courageous.” This year, the guests are a myriad of both the representation of Americans and the issues we have faced in recent months — issues the president, who the New York Times notes will focus on broader ideas rather than specific policies, has aligned himself with to propel awareness.
That reasoning explains why the Obamas have invited Syrian refuge Refaai Hamo, whose Humans of New York post prompted the president himself to reach out. “Hamo’s story is one of repeated tragedy, with the 55-year-old yearning for an opportunity to bring his skills as a scientist to America. Obama wrote that Hamo was ‘part of what makes America great,'” ABC News writes.
Obama, in recent months, has been extremely vocal in response to GOP criticism that opening U.S. borders to Syrian refugees escaping war is a direct in for terrorists associated with ISIS.
Highlighting a win for his administration, the president is also set to host Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that legalized gay marriage nationwide last year.
And in a throwback that will most certainly be Obama’s full-circle moment, the president is hosting Edith Childs, a council member in Greenwood County, South Carolina who popularized Obama’s 2008 rallying cry — “fired up, ready to go.”
Other guests include an ex-con, small business owners, immigrants, and more. And following an emotional announcement to introduce executive actions on gun control, the president will leave a seat vacant for victims of gun violence.
From the White House:
We leave one seat empty in the First Lady’s State of the Union Guest Box for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice – because they need the rest of us to speak for them. To tell their stories. To honor their memory. To support the Americans whose lives have been forever changed by the terrible ripple effect of gun violence – survivors who’ve had to learn to live with a disability, or without the love of their life. To remind every single one of our representatives that it’s their responsibility to do something about this.
You can check out the other 20 guests set to join FLOTUS and the president at Tuesday night’s address here.