Tonight, President Obama will deliver his sixth State of the Union Address to Congress and the Nation. From free Community College to early childhood education, we know that education will be one of the many topics the President discusses in the annual speech.
Each year, the First Lady invites exceptional Americans that match the themes of the State of the Union Address to join her in her viewing box. This year, several students and educators have been invited. Here’s a look at who’s attending:
Thirteen-year-old Malik Bryant sent a letter to Santa over the holidays, but rather than request the usual gifts, Malik wrote: “All I ask for is for safety I just wanna be safe.” And, rather than mail the letter to the North Pole, a non-profit organization – moved by Malik’s plea for the fundamental right to feel safe in his community – redirected the letter to the White House. The President wrote back to Malik, encouraging him and underscoring that Malik’s “security is a priority for me in everything I do as President.” Malik lives with his mother Keturah and his two sisters in a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. He is in seventh grade, and his favorite subject is math.
A native of Jefferson City, Tennessee Chelsey Davis decided that community college was the best path to re-enter her collegiate career with the ideal support and resources. In May 2015, Chelsey will graduate from Pellissippi State Community College with plans to pursue a B.A. in Nutritional Science. Chelsey currently serves on the Student Activities Board and as a New Student Orientation Leader at her community college. She also participates in the Knoxville Food Policy Council meetings and tutors elementary and middle school children in reading and mathematics at The First Tee of Greater Knoxville Learning Center. She has an interest in national and international humanitarian work and is excited to have an opportunity to study abroad in Segovia, Spain with the Tennessee Consortium of International Studies (TnCIS) this summer. After graduation, Chelsey plans to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA. Chelsey met President Obama, Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden earlier this month at Pellissippi State Community College when the President announced his “America’s College Promise” proposal. It makes two years of community college free for responsible students. As someone who understands the benefits of community colleges first-hand, Chelsey hopes to encourage high school graduates to take full advantage of the opportunity.
William Elder, Jr. graduated from Stanford, and is currently a third year medical student at the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University in Ohio. Bill was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was eight years old, at a time when most cystic fibrosis patients were only expected to live to early adulthood. But thanks to a unique collaboration between the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, patients, researchers, and a pharmaceutical company, Bill, now 27, expects to live a long, full life. He benefits from a medication that targets the underlying cause of the disease for a small subset of cystic fibrosis patients. Inspired by his doctors and care team, Bill plans to become a family practitioner with a focus on preventative care. Bill’s story is a testament to the promise of precision medicine, an emerging approach to treatment that takes into account patients’ individual characteristics, such as their genetic make-up, to improve treatment.
Growing up in the South Bronx with his mother and three siblings, Anthony Mendez names two experiences from his formative high school years. In ninth grade, his best friend was murdered in his neighborhood, and the next year his family was evicted from their home and moved into a homeless shelter. Living two hours away from school, for six months Anthony had to wake up at 4:30AM to continue his education. Overcoming these experiences, he became the first high school graduate in his family – his story of perseverance represents the core of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative. In July he met the First Lady and fellow students who never took their education for granted, and he said he learned to be proud of his past and never hide from it. Today Anthony is a freshman at the University of Hartford — where he plans to study Political Science – on a partial track and field scholarship.
In January 2012, Katrice Mubiru, a career-technical education teacher for the Los Angeles unified school district, sent a letter to the President encouraging him to support K-12, adult and career technical education. Katrice met and introduced the President in July when he visited Los Angeles Trade-Technical College to highlight programs for citizens to learn the skills that growing technical fields require. As a teacher, Katrice has witnessed how technical education can change lives, and she wrote the President to share stories of students who pursued an education, despite difficult financial odds, on their way to news jobs in the growing health care field. Katrice is a Los Angeles native who graduated from California State University Long Beach, and is married with four children ages 7, 9, 17 and 19.
Working for the local school system, Tiairris Woodward, 43, wasn’t making enough money to support herself and her three children, the youngest of whom has special needs. She started working for Chrysler in 2010 on the assembly line, and after doing both jobs full time, working 17 hours a day, Tiairris was in a position to move solely to Chrysler – a union job that makes her a member of United Auto Workers Local 7. After a year on the job, she saved enough to buy a car and rent a new apartment, and through Chrysler’s Tuition Assistance Program, Tiairris is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in business management. Tiairris’ story is one of many made possible through the comeback of Detroit and the American auto industry. The President is focused on ensuring more Americans like Tiairris – not just a fortunate few – share in the benefits of our American resurgence.
Ana wrote to the President in September, “As with any other dreamer, my parents came to this country with a dream of a better future for their children.” And through the Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Ana is closer than ever to fulfilling those dreams. In 2012, she qualified and was granted temporary relief and work authorization – an opportunity Ana credits with getting a job in line with her career path and a better livelihood while finishing up her last year at Northwood University in Texas. Ana’s life has fundamentally changed for the better as a result of DACA. And because she has siblings who are U.S. citizens, her parents, a small business owner and a construction worker, are among the millions of people who are potentially eligible for the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program announced by the President last November. She hopes others can learn from her experience and mentors fellow students hoping to request temporary relief through DACA. After college Ana hopes to continue her studies and attend graduate school. She will also remain committed to supporting young students looking for an opportunity like she’s been afforded. Ana celebrated her first birthday in the U.S. and as she wrote the President, “The United States is my country. It is where I grew up, took my first steps, learned to read, write, play, graduated from high school, and will graduate from college.”