Air Florida Flight 90 survivors Priscilla Tirado(L) and Lenny Skutnik(R), November 15, 1982 in Washington, DC. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/ Getty Images)
It’s “meet the Skutniks” time in Washington, D.C.: The NBA’s first openly gay player, a hero from the Boston Bombing (and the man he helped save), the Moore, Okla., fire chief who led the search for survivors after a devastating tornado, and others.
The White House on Monday announced the first batch of guests who will watch President Barack Obama’s state of the union speech on Tuesday alongside first lady Michelle Obama, who will sit in her special spot in the gallery above the floor of the House of Representatives.
Why are they called “Skutniks?”
Lenny Skutnik dove into the icy Potomac River in January 1982 to rescue a woman from the Air Florida Flight 90 crash, earning him a spot as an honored guest at then-President Ronald Reagan’s state of the union speech two weeks later.
By tradition, the guests who sit in the first lady’s gallery – people whose life stories traditionally help the president make a point in the annual speech – are known as Skutniks.
Here is the first wave of guests, as announced by the White House:
- Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman, survivors of the Boston marathon bombing
Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman are forever linked due to the attacks on the 117th Boston Marathon. 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." From his intensive care hospital bed, Jeff played a vital role in identifying the bombers. After losing both legs in the attack, he is battling back and describes himself as a quick healer and stronger now than he was before the attack. Jeff, 27, and Carlos, 53, who is a Gold Star Father, have become close friends.
- Gary Bird, fire chief in Moore, Okla.
Fire Chief Gary Bird represents all of those who rallied together to help the community of Moore, Okla., – firefighters, police officers, teachers, neighbors – in its greatest time of need: The immediate aftermath of the EF5 tornado that hit Moore, killing 25 men, women and children and devastating a community of more than 1,000 homes and businesses. Bird and his search-and-rescue crews worked through the path of the storm to rescue survivors. “We will be through every damaged piece of property in this city at least three times before we're done, and we hope to be done by dark tonight,” Bird said in a press conference the evening the tornado hit. Bird began his career in 1981 as a volunteer firefighter in Ninnekah, Okla. After four years as a volunteer, he was hired by the Moore Fire Department, working his way through the ranks. He was appointed deputy fire chief in February 2003, a position he held until being named fire chief on June 30, 2012. Bird and his wife, Cindy, have been married for 34 years, and they have a son, two granddaughters, and a six-month-old grandson.
- Jason Collins, 12-year NBA player from Los Angeles, Calif.
While at Stanford, Jason Collins was selected as an All American, named the NCAA’s “Big Man of the Year,” and earned an appearance in the Final Four. After graduating in 2001, Collins was drafted into the NBA and has since played for six teams including the Celtics, whose then coach Doc Rivers said of Collins: “He’s the best. He literally is one of the best guys I’ve ever had in the locker room, player or coach.” In his 12 years in the league, Collins’ teams earned 9 trips to the playoffs including 2 NBA Finals appearances. In April 2013, Collins became the first male player in major American team sports to come out openly as gay. The president expressed his gratitude to Collins for his courageous announcement through an article Collins penned himself. The president said he “couldn’t be prouder” of Collins, recognizing this as a point of progress for the LGBT community, and one more step in America’s goal to treat everyone fairly and with respect. Collins is 35 and lives in Los Angeles, Calif.
- Joey Hudy, “Maker” and Intel Intern from Anthem, Ariz.
Joey Hudy is a self-described “Maker,” part of a growing community of young people, adults, and entrepreneurs who are designing and building things on their own time. Joey first shot to fame in 2012 when, at 14 years old, he attended the White House Science Fair where the President took a turn using the contraption he had made -- the “extreme marshmallow cannon” – and launched a marshmallow across the East Room. Joey then handed the president a card with his credo: “Don’t be bored, make something.” Now 16, he has continued to live by his motto, appearing at Maker Faires all across the country. Joey, a proponent of STEM education, is determined to teach other kids about how they can make and do anything they want. Joey lives with his mom, dad, and older sister. Earlier this month, he started as Intel’s youngest intern, a position Intel CEO Brian Krzanich offered him on the spot at his Maker Faire exhibit.
- Kathy Hollowell-Makle, 2013 DCPS Teacher of the Year from Washington, D.C.
Kathy Hollowell-Makle was named 2013’s District of Columbia Public School’s Teacher of the Year after more than 15 years teaching in Washington, D.C. Kathy began as a Teach for America corps member in the District in 1998 and currently teaches at Abram Simon Elementary in Southeast Washington, D.C. By the school year’s end, more than 90 percent of her students demonstrate early literacy at proficient or advanced levels and last year, more than 80 percent of her students advanced two or more reading levels. Kathy contributed some of her experience and expertise to a roundtable with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding early childhood education. Kathy emphasizes a positive attitude and focuses on fluency in reading, writing and counting, explaining: “The best part of teaching is having former students recognize me, and being able to see how wonderful they turned out to be.” Kathy lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband Stephen and their two sons Amir and Ian. She is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana.