Former NBA player Jason Collins, who became the first male athlete actively playing on a major American sports team to come out as gay last April, will join first lady Michelle Obama in her VIP box above the House floor during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, the White House announced Monday.
They will be joined by Boston Marathon bombing survivors Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman, who became an iconic image of the “Boston strong” movement after Arredondo, 53, was photographed rushing Bauman, 27, to safety. Bauman, who lost both legs in the bombing, was vital in the effort to identify the bombers during his recovery in the hospital, the White House said.
Also joining the first lady is Gary Bird, the fire chief of Moore, Okla., who led the search and rescue efforts after a tornado decimated the town and killed 25 people last May. Also in attendance will be Kathy Hollowell-Makle, a teacher of the year from Washington, D.C., and 16-year-old Joey Hudy, the youngest-ever intern at Intel who caught President Obama’s eye with his “extreme marshmallow cannon” during a 2013 White House Science Fair.
The first lady’s guest list often includes people whose life experiences illustrate key points in the president’s speech and his agenda. Collins came to symbolize a landmark year for gay rights, including the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Michelle Obama tweeted her support for the NBA player last April, and President Obama spoke with Collins by phone. The first round of guests indicate an emphasis on STEM education, innovation, and natural emergency preparedness, and the resilience of the American spirit – a theme he emphasized after the national tragedies of his first term.
Guests of the first lady in 2013 included the parents of slain first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Obama’s demand for a vote on gun control measures served as an emotional closer of his speech.
Second lady Jill Biden and Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett will also sit with the first lady Tuesday night, with more guests to be announced by the White House.
Mark Sokolich, the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, NJ., will attend the speech as a guest of Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., the Bergen Record reported. Sokolich was considered the target of the “bridgegate” closings when the scandal involving the George Washington Bridge and members of Gov. Christie’s staff first broke.