First lady Michelle Obama has invited a handful of students and educators to sit in her viewing box Tuesday night for the State of the Union address. Among them are several people who personify themes of the Obama administration, including improving outcomes for young black men, a push to expand access to college for low-income students, job retraining for adult workers and opportunities for “dreamers,” or undocumented students brought to the United States as children.
The first lady’s guest list includes:
●Malik Bryant, 13, from the South Side of Chicago, who in a letter to Santa over the holidays wrote: “All I ask for is for safety I just wanna be safe.” A nonprofit organization sent the letter to the White House. President Obama replied with encouraging words for Malik, according to the White House.
●Chelsey Davis, a student at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tenn. Davis expects to graduate in May, serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer and continue her education until she earns a bachelor’s degree in nutritional science. Davis met President Obama, Vice President Biden and Jill Biden this month at her college when the president announced his proposal to make community college free.
●William Elder, Jr., a third-year medical student at the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University in Ohio. Elder was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a young boy, a time when most patients were expected to live into early adulthood. But Elder, now 27, is part of a small subset of cystic fibrosis patients benefitting from a breakthrough treatment that targets the underlying cause of their disease. The medication is the product of a collaboration between the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, patients, researchers and a pharmaceutical company.
●Anthony Mendez, a freshman at the University of Hartford. Mendez grew up in the South Bronx with his mother and three siblings. In ninth grade, his best friend was slain in his neighborhood, and the next year his family moved into a homeless shelter. To continue attending his high school, Mendez had to get up at 4:30 a.m. and travel two hours each way. He became the first in his family to graduate from high school, and he is attending college on a partial track-and-field scholarship and plans to study political science.
●Katrice Mubiru, career technical education teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District. In January, Mubiru wrote to the president, encouraging him to support K-12 and adult and career technical education. She met him in July when he visited Los Angeles Trade-Technical College to highlight programs that teach adults the skills in demand in growing technical fields.
●Tiairris Woodward, of Warren, Mich. Woodward, a 43-year-old single mother of three, worked two full-time jobs — one for the local school system and one on a Chrysler assembly line — until she was able to quit the school system and work just one job, at the automaker. After a year, she was able to buy a car, rent a new apartment and, through Chrysler’s tuition assistance program, begin pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business management.
●Ana Zamora, 20, student at Northwood University in Texas. Brought to the United States from Mexico as an infant, Zamora was granted temporary relief and work authorization in 2012 through the Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program. In a letter she wrote to President Obama in September, Zamora credited DACA with enabling her to get a job in line with her career interests as she completes her bachelor’s degree and plans for graduate school.
“My parents brought me to the United States before my first birthday, 20 years ago,” she wrote to the president. “As with any other dreamer, my parents came to this country with a dream of a better future for their children. . . . I am finally a person in the United States. I have a Social Security number, an employment authorization card and a driver’s license to drive the car I pay for with my own money (which I earned working with my employment authorization card) and pay taxes as any law-abiding U.S. citizen. I could not be more proud of myself!!!”