Past State of the Union Guests

PHOTO: 2012 State of the Union Address
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Since Ronald Reagan, it has become a tradition for presidents to invite special guests to watch their annual State of the Union address from a VIP box in the House chamber with the first lady. From such famous figures as the late Steve Jobs' wife, Laurene Powell Jobs, to Joan Milligan, a longtime Florida resident in search of a mortgage refinance, the president often mentions the attendees in his speech as human faces to the policy agenda he is pushing. For most of these guests, it is a momentary flash of fame. But what happens after they leave the nation's capital? Some flourish, others run into business trouble. Here is a look at what happens after the State of the Union:

2012

PHOTO: Bruce Cochrane, center, attends President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 24, 2012.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Bruce Cochrane, President and CEO of Lincolnton Furniture

Cochrane said he was chosen to attend the ceremony because as a small business owner in North Carolina, he had revived an effort to manufacture furniture in the country. Although he was chosen to attend the 2012 address, Cochrane said he never tried to fool the White House into thinking he supported Obama.

"I'm not a Democrat. I'm conservative," Cochrane said. "I didn't want to mislead them into thinking I supported the president in any fashion, and I didn't look on his [re-election] favorably."

Following the address, Cochrane said he updated his business with state-of-the-art machinery and equipment, and even hired new employees.

But Cochrane's business was forced to cease operations early last month because of what Cochrane said were "a few setbacks" and "unexpected expenses." Where is his company headed now? He's hoping to apply for a grant from the state, and is even looking to an acquisition of his company.

"There are people who want to acquire Lincolnton Furniture, since we have a domestic manufacturing footprint," he said. "We're hopeful that some acquisition transaction will take place in the very near future."

2012

Joan Milligan, Florida resident

Longtime Florida resident Joan Milligan was chosen for a simple act - the refinancing of her home.

"We had a high mortgage rate," she said. "Obama's [Home Affordable Refinance] program allowed us to reduce the mortgage rate and save our home."

Before she knew it, Milligan started getting phone calls from the U.S. Treasury Department and an executive at the Bank of America, who knew more about her and her husband before she even began telling them about herself. Eventually, she was told she would be chosen to attend the address to represent the message regarding the refinancing program.

The White House did slightly embellish her story, according to Milligan, who said her house was not "completely under the water," as Obama's speech made it out to seem. Still, she was thrilled "to death" with her experience and treasures her pictures of herself with the first lady and the president.

As for where her family is at now, Milligan said she and her husband can comfortably live in their home as the refinancing program freed up extra money to get back each month.

"We plan to be [in this home] until they carry us out," she said.

2010

Gabriela Farfan, Senior at Stanford University

Gabriela Farfan was 19 when she was flown to the White House on a red eye and pushed into the spotlight at a news conference. She was just a freshman at Stanford University at the time and had only been to Washington D.C., twice before.

Farfan, a Latina who is majoring in geology, was a top award winner in the Intel Science Talent Search for her independent research describing why certain gemstones change color when viewed from different angles. Farfan is originally from Madison, Wis., and was one of two students invited to the address who attended a public high school.

"President Obama was very interested in talking about making science and technology a priority," Farfan said. "There were four of us students in college or just about to enter college and they kept us really close."

Farfan is currently applying to graduate school and has already been accepted to CalTech to continuing studying geology.

2010

PHOTO: Trevor Yegar of Indianapolis, center, attends President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, Jan. 27, 2010.
Susan Walsh/AP Photo
Trevor Yager, President and CEO of TrendyMinds

Trevor Yager was something of a trifecta. He was gay, from the electoral battleground of the Midwest and a successful businessman in a struggling economy. That's what set him apart among millions when it came time for the Obamas to choose the event attendees.

Yager is the president and CEO of TrendyMinds, a full-service advertising and PR firm whose clients include NASCAR drivers and pharmaceutical companies. Since 2010, Yager has dropped a business partner and increased his business size and staff from seven people in 2010 to 29 people today.

An observation Yager made during the 2010 address was that the speeches are always a nod toward what is coming. The inaugural address was no different.

"At the 2010 State of the Union, the president spoke openly about 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" Yager said. "It was interesting because when I was seated in the first lady's box, I was right next to an Army ranger."

As for one word to describe Yager's experience at the address? Humbling.

"This wasn't about me," Yager said. "I was the one chosen, but there were more people who were as good or better who could be sitting where I was."

Yager currently lives in Indianapolis with his partner of 10 years, and their adopted son, Andrew.

2009

Bob Dixson, Mayor of Greensburg, Kan.

When Mayor Bob Dixson took office in 2008, he faced the challenge of rebuilding a town that was demolished by an F5 category tornado. In the midst of the rubble, Dixson saw opportunity to turn Greensburg, Kan., into a flourishing and environmentally sustainable community.

Although it hasn't been easy, Dixson was able to inspire his constituents to rebuild in a green way and encourage local business development, while maintaining the town's budget. As a result of his efforts, Dixson was invited by President Obama and the first lady to attend the 2009 address to the Joint Sessions of Congress.

"I was humbled and honored to represent the citizens of Kiowa County and Kansas," Dixson said. "I remember the human aspect of the trip - getting to meet all the different individuals who were invited, that's what touched me most."

Looking forward to the challenges the nation faces in 2013, Dixson, a Republican, says his main concerns center around the economy, and he hopes this issue will be discussed in the State of the Union address on Tuesday.

"What I would like to hear is not ideology and not partisanship, but resolutions to real problems," he said. "I would also like to see a budget - we all have to balance our checkbooks."

Despite these concerns, Dixson believes people need to remember to respect the office of the president. He says the best way to do this in 2013 is to make "collaborative efforts" a priority rather than focusing on "popularity contests."

2009

PHOTO: Jim Douglas and Barack Obama
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Jim Douglas, Governor of Vermont 2003-2011

A few short weeks after his inauguration, President Obama met with Republican Gov. Jim Douglas to discuss the upcoming stimulus package. The meeting made Douglas the first governor to meet with the new president, and signified a bipartisan effort to address the economic crisis. The success of the meeting also earned him an invitation to the 2009 presidential address to the Joint Sessions of Congress.

"I was sitting directly behind Mrs. Obama, so my friends told me, 'We saw a lot of your tie!'" Douglas joked before continuing on a serious note. "I was grateful for [President Obama's] attempt to reach out to meet with someone from another party, and equally grateful to be invited."

Today, Jim Douglas serves on the Governor's Council of the Bipartisan Policy Center, which brings leaders from both parties to focus on such issues as health care, energy, national security and the economy. He also teaches a course at Middlebury College on Vermont government and politics.

Although Douglas has moved beyond politics, he still feels concerned about the state of the union four years after his attendance.

"The fiscal integrity of the federal government has not really improved, and I hope it will now," he said. "They haven't passed a budget in four years."

To fix these problems, Douglas continued to stress the importance of bipartisan practices.

"My hope is that the State of the Union message will be bipartisan and will demonstrate a real effort to work across the aisle," he said. "It's time for everybody to remember for whom they work and seek common ground."

His one direct suggestion for the president?

"[President Obama] is not a schmoozer," he says. "I know that's not his nature - he's a cerebral guy - but the job involves interacting with people he may not like."

2009

Victoria Kirby, Campaign Organizer

As an undergraduate at Howard University, Victoria Kirby was the first openly gay elected member of the Board of Trustees, and worked as an assistant to the president of the university. She also created Howard's social media initiative, and worked on improving the LGBT Resource Center. Kirby's various achievements made her a model of what a modern student and young professional looked like in the face of the worst job market since the Great Depression. Her hard work even earned her an invitation from Michelle Obama to be a guest at the 2009 Presidential Address to the Joint Sessions of Congress.

"It was an incredible and unforgettable experience," Kirby said. "As an African-American woman it was so inspiring to see the first black president speak, while the first female speaker of the House presided over the event."

Attending the 2009 Address affected the rest of Kirby's professional aspirations. After college, she pursued a master's degree in public administration, worked as an organizer for Organizing for America, and even had lunch with the president. During the 2012 election, Kirby went on to serve as the West Central Florida Regional Field Director for Organizing for America before being hired as Rep. Kathy Castor's outreach director.

Apart from career inspiration, Kirby recalls the 2009 address to have been personally meaningful with regards to President Obama's health care ideas.

"I have a pre-existing condition, and at the time I was nervous about the job market, so any decisions that I made were dependent on being able to afford medicine," Kirby said. "The removal of the pre-existing conditions clause was great."

This year, Kirby said she looked forward to hearing two specific issues addressed in the president's 2013 State of the Union address – LGBT rights and immigration reform.

"One of my best friends since childhood has been [in the United States] since third grade and just recently became a full-fledged citizen," she said. "People like him would make a lasting contribution to this country."

She also hopes the president will continue voicing support for the LGBT community, as he did in the 2012 inaugural address.

"As an openly proud LGBT American, I was really proud to hear [President Obama] link Stonewall to what happened in Selma," Kirby said. "I'm hopeful he will say something in the State of the Union to address our community."

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