Others remember limousine rides, with wailing police escorts. A tap on the leg from Nancy Reagan, telling them to be calm. In 2009, Abess looked out during the speech and was surprised to see many lawmakers surreptitiously typing on their smartphones.
Their presidential mentions took just a few heart-racing seconds. And then they walked out into another life.
"They call me Subway Superhero. They call me Track Man," said Wesley Autrey, who was singled out by George W. Bush in 2007. Autrey had jumped onto a New York subway track to save a stranger who had fallen off the platform while having a seizure.
Bush's mention made him a national star. He was invited on talk shows, got tickets to the Super Bowl. Donald Trump gave him $10,000. Chrysler gave him a Jeep.
Some of those whose achievements have been highlighted have used the moment as a launch pad into public life.
Kristen Zarfos, a Connecticut surgeon, was praised by President Bill Clinton for her advocacy to improve treatment for women after mastectomies. After the speech, she lobbied for legislation to ensure that women would be allowed at least a two-day hospital stay after the breast surgery. Twenty states have done so.
"I wasn't even on the school board" before that speech, Zarfos said. "And now this is what I do."
Others returned to quiet lives, and their presidential mention receded to a pleasant memory. Clinton honored Chris Getsla, now 28, in 1997 for excellence on an international math-and-science exam. The president said students such as Getsla "prove that when we aim high and challenge our students, they will be the best in the world."
Or perhaps they will impersonate Paul McCartney in a Beatles cover band. Getsla dropped out of college and now plays at hotels and casinos in the Midwest.
S. Richard Cavoli was a college student when Reagan praised him for his scientific research in 1986. He is now a physician in Albany. He marks major events in his life - graduation from medical school, the birth of his son - by eating one Jelly Belly jellybean from a jar Reagan gave him.
The most troubling story began as one of the most touching.
In 1986 - alongside three other young people - Reagan singled out a D.C. gospel singer.
"We see the dream glow in the towering talent of a 12-year-old, Tyrone Ford," the president said. On television, a slight boy in a brown suit looked down nervously, then widened his eyes at Reagan's praise. "With God as your composer, Tyrone, your music will be the music of angels."
In news accounts from the time, family members said that the boy's behavior began to change after the speech and that he began skipping school. The Reagans helped him get into a strict boarding school in New York, but he continued to get into trouble.
In 1993, when he was 19, Ford was accused of stealing a car that belonged to former D.C. mayor Marion Barry. Since then, he has spent significant amounts of time in prison.
In August 2008, New York state officials say, Ford was arrested on charges of stealing wallets at movie theaters in Manhattan.
Today, Ford sings and plays the organ during church services at Mid-Orange Correctional Facility, a state prison 60 miles northwest of New York City. In his past two years in prison, he has never had a visitor, prison spokeswoman Linda Foglia said.
He does carry with him one indication of his life on the outside. Foglia said Ford once showed the chaplain a photo he keeps in his wallet.
In it is Ford, from all those years earlier, posing with Ronald Reagan.