Michelle Obama, center, flanked by, from left, Dina Leach, Ty’Sheoma Bethea, Officer Richard DeCoatsworth of the Philadelphia police and Jill Biden.
More Photos >
February 25, 2009
First Lady’s Guests Reflect Speech Themes
By MICHAEL FALCONE
WASHINGTON — Seated in Michelle Obama’s box on Tuesday night were living symbols of the ideas in President Obama’s first speech to a joint session of Congress, including a bank executive, Leonard Abess, who shared a vast fortune with his employees, and an eighth-grade student from South Carolina, Ty’Sheoma Bethea, who in a letter had urged Congress not to neglect education financing.
Mr. Obama used a line in Ty’Sheoma’s letter, “We are not quitters,” as one of his closing themes.
Mr. Abess split $60 million among several hundred current and former workers at his bank.
Other guests sitting with Mrs. Obama included Lilly M. Ledbetter, whose Supreme Court case resulted in Congressional action to prevent wage discrimination, and Jonathon N. James, an Army veteran who was wounded in Afghanistan.
Bob Dixson, the mayor of Greensburg, Kan., which was destroyed by a tornado in May 2008, was also invited. Mr. Obama praised the spirit of that community, which is being redeveloped as an energy-efficient “green town.”
Two other guests were sophomores at Washington high schools, Akrem Muzemil and Francisco Rodriguez. Both plan on attending college and are interested in studying engineering.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III, the pilot who safely landed a jetliner in the Hudson River last month, saving 150 passengers and four other crew members. Mr. Sullenberger’s first officer and a flight attendant also sat in the speaker’s box.
Ms. Pelosi also chose to give two of the prime seats to labor leaders, John J. Sweeney, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union.