How Ordinary Americans End Up in the State of the Union Address

Average Americans in the ‘State of the Union Address.’


One of Ronald Reagan’s greatest gifts to us was the inclusion of Lenny Skutnik in his 1982 State of the Union, the hero who rescued plane crash survivors from the sub-zero Potomac. Since then, every president has had the privilege of publicly recognizing such inspiration throughout his address.

This was my favorite part of working on the State of the Union. I would smile from my office as Laura Dean, our assistant speechwriter and expert researcher, called the bewildered people who made it into the speech. “Yes, that’s right, the President of the United States. No, this isn’t a prank.”

This is President Obama’s favorite part, too—particularly the story that’s often told to conclude the speech. My old boss is a sucker for good endings, and he would send us far and wide to find just the right anecdote. In 2011, a worker from a Pennsylvania firm whose drilling technology…

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