SOTU guests hint at address themes

Survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, a fire chief from an Oklahoma city devastated by a tornado and the first NBA player to come out as openly gay will be among those seated with first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.

Guests of the first lady will also include Joey Hudy, a 16-year-old who is the youngest intern at semiconductor maker Intel, and Kathy Hollowell-Makle, the 2013 teacher of the year in the District of Columbia public school system, the White House said Monday.

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The tradition of inviting high-profile guests to the State of the Union address dates back to the presidency of Ronald Reagan and can provide a window into the themes and policy priorities the president is likely to outline.

The first such guest was Lenny Skutnik, who dove into the Potomac River to rescue a passenger from the crash of Air Florida Flight 90.

Obama will also recognize those tied to tragedy with invitations extended to Boston Marathon bombing survivors Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman.

“In what has become an iconic image from the day in April of 2013, Carlos – wearing his white Cowboy hat – was captured rushing a badly injured Jeff away from the bombing to safety, thereby becoming two of the faces of ‘Boston Strong,’ ” the White House said in a statement.

Bauman lost both legs in the attack, but played a central role in helping to identify the bombers.

The president will also acknowledge Gary Bird, the fire chief in Moore, Okla. The city was devastated by a tornado in May, with 210 mile-per-hour winds killing 25 people and injuring hundreds more.

The inclusion of the young Intel intern, who memorably appeared at a White House science fair to show off his “extreme marshmallow cannon” two years ago, and the D.C. schoolteacher appears to indicate that a portion of the president’s address will focus on education.

Earlier this month, the White House hosted a daylong conference with university presidents and nonprofit groups designed to improve college access for low-income students. At the time, Obama billed the event as an example of how he could move without the help of Congress to accomplish concrete improvements for those seeking to climb into the middle class.

Last year, Obama used the State of the Union address to call for universal pre-K. He's also pushed for additional funding for science, technology and trade programs for high school students.

The inclusion of former NBA player Jason Collins is also a sign Obama could tackle social issues in the speech. Obama told reporters he called Collins, after Collins revealed he was gay in a Sports Illustrated essay last spring.

"He seems like a terrific young man, and I told him I couldn't be prouder," Obama said. "One of the extraordinary measures of progress that we've seen in this country has been the recognition that the LGBT community deserves full equality — not just partial equality, not just tolerance, but a recognition that they're fully a part of the American family."

Last year, the first lady’s guests included Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Miami voter who waited for hours to cast her ballot during the presidential election, as well as the mother and father of Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago high school student gunned down just days after performing at the president’s inauguration.