Alan Gross among 22 special guests to attend State of the Union

Ever since President Ronald Reagan began to acknowledge special guests with compelling stories during his State of the Union speech in 1982, every president since has continued the tradition. Alan Gross and his wife, Judy, are among the 22 guests invited by the White House to attend Tuesday night’s speech. SEE ALSO: Dreamer to sit with First Lady at State of the Union Gross was a contractor for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), who in ending 2009 was arrested in Cuba while working as a U.S. government subcontractor. The New York native returned home five years later, after being released from the Cuban prison in December 2014. That same day – with Alan’s unjust captivity resolved – the President announced to the world that the U.S. was changing its relationship with the people of Cuba and would normalize relations between both countries after more than 50 years. Gross will take a seat near first lady Michelle Obama, having prime viewing during Obama’s State of the Union address this year. His story, along with the stories of the other 21 guests, is a perfect example of tragedies or triumphs that highlight an issue or public policy. This year’s group also includes three Latinos, as identified by the White House in a statement: Ana Zamora (Dallas, TX) Letter Writer, Student, DREAMer Ana wrote to the President in September, “As with any other dreamer, my parents came to this country with a dream of a better future for their children.” And through the Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Ana is closer than ever to fulfilling those dreams. In 2012, she qualified and was granted temporary relief and work authorization – an opportunity Ana credits with getting a job in line with her career path and a better livelihood while finishing up her last year at Northwood University in Texas. Ana’s life has fundamentally changed for the better as a result of DACA. And because she has siblings who are U.S. citizens, her parents, a small business owner and a construction worker, are among the millions of people who are potentially eligible for the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program announced by the President last November. Nicole Hernandez Hammer (Southeast Florida) Mother and Sea Level Rise Researcher Nicole knows firsthand the impacts of climate change and sea level rise and is raising awareness to the disproportionate effects felt along the coast and beyond. As a sea level researcher she has studied how cities and regions most vulnerable to the effects of climate change also have large concentrations of Hispanics. She immigrated from Guatemala and also has Cuban heritage, and now works to mobilize the Latino community to understand and address the devastating effects that disproportionately affect the health of Hispanics and their families. To that end, Nicole works with Moms Clean Air Force to further the public’s awareness of climate change on children’s health. Anthony Mendez (Bronx, NY) Student, “Reach Higher” Initiative Anthony Mendez names two experiences from his formative high school years. In ninth grade, his best friend was murdered in his neighborhood, and the next year his family was evicted from their home and moved into a homeless shelter. Living two hours away from school, for six months Anthony had to wake up at 4:30AM to continue his education. Overcoming these experiences, he became the first high school graduate in his family – his story of perseverance represents the core of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative. In July he met the First Lady and fellow students who never took their education for granted, and he said he learned to be proud of his past and never hide from it. Today Anthony is a freshman at the University of Hartford — where he plans to study Political Science. For the complete list of special guests, click here. The 22 guests will will seated in the box with the First Lady, Dr. JillBiden and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, at the State of the Union Address. SEE ALSO: State of the Union: Promises made in 2014 – which got fulfilled? President Barack Obama will give his State of the Union address at 9 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, Jan. 20.The post Alan Gross among 22 special guests to attend State of the Union appeared first on Voxxi.

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Alan Gross takes a selfie with his wife, Judy Gross, onboard a government plane headed back to the U.S., December 17, 2014. (Photo by Lawrence Jackson/The White House via Getty Images)

Ever since President Ronald Reagan began to acknowledge special guests with compelling stories during his State of the Union speech in 1982, every president since has continued the tradition. Alan Gross and his wife, Judy, are among the 22 guests invited by the White House to attend Tuesday night’s speech.

SEE ALSO: Dreamer to sit with First Lady at State of the Union

Gross was a contractor for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), who in ending 2009 was arrested in Cuba while working as a U.S. government subcontractor. The New York native returned home five years later, after being released from the Cuban prison in December 2014.

That same day – with Alan’s unjust captivity resolved – the President announced to the world that the U.S. was changing its relationship with the people of Cuba and would normalize relations between both countries after more than 50 years.

Gross will take a seat near first lady Michelle Obama, having prime viewing during Obama’s State of the Union address this year.

His story, along with the stories of the other 21 guests, is a perfect example of tragedies or triumphs that highlight an issue or public policy.

This year’s group also includes three Latinos, as identified by the White House in a statement:

Ana Zamora (Dallas, TX)

Letter Writer, Student, DREAMer

Ana Zamora is a DREAMer invited to State of the Union.
(Photo: WhiteHouse.gov)

Ana wrote to the President in September, “As with any other dreamer, my parents came to this country with a dream of a better future for their children.” And through the Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Ana is closer than ever to fulfilling those dreams. In 2012, she qualified and was granted temporary relief and work authorization – an opportunity Ana credits with getting a job in line with her career path and a better livelihood while finishing up her last year at Northwood University in Texas. Ana’s life has fundamentally changed for the better as a result of DACA. And because she has siblings who are U.S. citizens, her parents, a small business owner and a construction worker, are among the millions of people who are potentially eligible for the new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program announced by the President last November.

Nicole Hernandez Hammer (Southeast Florida)

Mother and Sea Level Rise Researcher

Nicole Hernandez joins State of the Union special guests.
(Photo: WhiteHouse.gov)

Nicole knows firsthand the impacts of climate change and sea level rise and is raising awareness to the disproportionate effects felt along the coast and beyond. As a sea level researcher she has studied how cities and regions most vulnerable to the effects of climate change also have large concentrations of Hispanics. She immigrated from Guatemala and also has Cuban heritage, and now works to mobilize the Latino community to understand and address the devastating effects that disproportionately affect the health of Hispanics and their families. To that end, Nicole works with Moms Clean Air Force to further the public’s awareness of climate change on children’s health.

Anthony Mendez (Bronx, NY)

Student, “Reach Higher” Initiative

Anthony Mendez will join State of the Union.
(Photo: WhiteHouse.gov)

Anthony Mendez names two experiences from his formative high school years. In ninth grade, his best friend was murdered in his neighborhood, and the next year his family was evicted from their home and moved into a homeless shelter. Living two hours away from school, for six months Anthony had to wake up at 4:30AM to continue his education. Overcoming these experiences, he became the first high school graduate in his family – his story of perseverance represents the core of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative. In July he met the First Lady and fellow students who never took their education for granted, and he said he learned to be proud of his past and never hide from it. Today Anthony is a freshman at the University of Hartford — where he plans to study Political Science.

For the complete list of special guests, click here.

The 22 guests will will seated in the box with the First Lady, Dr. JillBiden and Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, at the State of the Union Address.

SEE ALSO: State of the Union: Promises made in 2014 – which got fulfilled?

President Barack Obama will give his State of the Union address at 9 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, Jan. 20.

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The post Alan Gross among 22 special guests to attend State of the Union appeared first on Voxxi.