The White House Announces Guest List for the First Lady’s Box for the 2023 State of the Union Address
WASHINGTON, D.C. – First Lady Jill Biden will welcome guests to join her in the viewing box for President Biden’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday, February 7, 2023. Each of these individuals were invited by the White House because they personify issues or themes to be addressed by the President in his speech, or they embody the Biden-Harris Administration’s policies at work for the American people. The Second Gentleman, Mr. Douglas Emhoff, will also join the First Lady in the viewing box.
In recognition of sustained U.S. support for Ukraine nearly a year after Russia launched its unprovoked attack, the First Lady has again invited the Ambassador of Ukraine, Oksana Markarova, to join her as a guest for the State of the Union.
The following individuals, listed in alphabetical order, will be seated in the box with the First Lady and Second Gentleman:
Maurice and Kandice Barron (New York, New York)
The Barrons’ three-year old daughter, Ava, is a survivor of a rare form of pediatric cancer. Mr. Barron penned a letter to the President to express gratitude for the Bidens’ commitment to the Cancer Moonshot initiative and share their experience as parents and caregivers of a child with cancer. In 2022, Ava’s doctors gave the Barrons good news by officially declaring her in remission. Their family’s story is one of hope and possibility, inspiring us to continue working towards a future where we end cancer as we know it.
Lynette Bonar (Tuba City, Arizona)
Bonar is an enrolled member of Navajo Nation. She was a sergeant and former medic in the U.S. Army. She spent 19 years providing clinical care as a Registered Nurse and Executive at the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation, including eight years as Chief Executive Officer. In 2019, Dr. Biden joined Bonar to celebrate the opening of the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation’s Specialty Care Center which was the first cancer center opened on a Native American reservation, bringing cancer treatment and other oncology services to the Navajo, Hopi, and San Juan Southern Paiute tribal members who previously had to travel great distances to receive care.
Bono (Dublin, Ireland)
The lead singer of U2, Bono is a groundbreaking activist in the fight against HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty. Working in concert with other activists, he played a pivotal role building public and bipartisan political support for the creation of PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), a program announced by President Bush in his State of the Union twenty years ago, and championed by then-Senator Biden. PEPFAR is credited with revolutionizing the provision of life-saving HIV medications in poorer countries and saving 25 million lives worldwide. Bono is the cofounder of the nonpartisan ONE Campaign, which works with governments to fight poverty and preventable disease, and (RED), which has raised more than $700 million from businesses to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Deanna Branch (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Branch shared her family’s experiences with lead exposure with Vice President Harris in Milwaukee in 2022 and at the White House in 2023. Branch is working to build a lead safe environment for her community after her son Aidan battled lead poisoning as a result of unsafe levels of lead in their drinking water and home. She and her two sons had to move out of the house that they loved because it was no longer a safe environment to raise a family. Through historic levels of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and American Rescue Plan, and using additional tools across federal, state, and local governments, the Biden-Harris Administration is working to replace all lead service lines in America in the next decade.
Kristin Christensen and Avarie Kollmar (Seattle, Washington)
Christensen is a mother of three and a caregiver to her husband who was medically retired from the Navy due to combat-related injuries. In 2021, she was appointed as a Fellow with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation where she and her daughter, Avarie, advocate for military and veteran children in caregiving homes, known as “Hidden Helpers.” Christensen and Avarie share their stories to help others to identify as caregivers, seek out support, and know they are not alone. Christensen also works with local and state officials to support caregivers through the Dole Foundation’s Hidden Heroes Cities and Counties Program. In 2022, Christensen and Kollmar shared their experiences with the First Lady during a Joining Forces event in support of Hidden Helpers. Joining Forces is the First Lady’s White House initiative to support military and veteran families, survivors, and caregivers.
Ruth Cohen (Rockville, Maryland)
Cohen is a survivor of the Holocaust and a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. During the Nazi regime, Cohen and her family were forced from their home, and Cohen was later sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Cohen was liberated in 1945 and immigrated to the United States three years later. In 2022, Vice President Harris and Second Gentleman Emhoff met Cohen prior to International Holocaust Remembrance Day to raise awareness about the history and dangers of antisemitism. Cohen is a special guest of Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff.
Mitzi Colin Lopez (West Chester, Pennsylvania)
At just three years old, Colin Lopez’s parents brought her to the United States from Mexico. She grew up only knowing the United States as her home. As a DREAMer, she applied for and received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2015, and has since graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. She is an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform and in 2021, Colin Lopez met the President to share her experiences as a DACA recipient.
Maurice “Dion” Dykes (Knoxville, Tennessee)
Dykes is currently training to fulfill his dream of becoming a teacher through a teacher Registered Apprenticeship program, one of the pathways supported by Tennessee’s Grow Your Own strategic efforts. Approved by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2022 with support from the American Rescue Plan, Tennessee’s teacher Registered Apprenticeship programs have helped the state establish no-cost pathways to the teaching profession. Dykes spent the first 25 years of his career working in graphic design. In 2022, the First Lady met Dykes during a visit to Sarah Moore Greene Magnet Academy to highlight ways states and school districts are recruiting and preparing qualified educators for the classroom.
Kate Foley (Arlington Heights, Illinois)
Foley is a 10th grade computer-integrated manufacturing student at Rolling Meadows High School in Illinois High School District 214, a public high school that prepares students for future careers through partnerships with the local community college, work-based learning opportunities with employers, and career advising programs. Foley hopes to pursue a career as a biomedical engineer using the knowledge learned through her engineering classes started as a high school student. In 2022, the First Lady met Foley during a visit to Rolling Meadows High School to highlight the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to strengthening our economy and building pathways from high school to good-paying jobs, through career-connected learning.
Darlene Gaffney (North Charleston, South Carolina)
Gaffney was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer in March 2015. A cancer survivor, she joined Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church’s Cancer Support Ministry because she wanted to use her own experience to educate others in her church and community about the importance of early detection and getting recommended cancer screenings. In 2021, the First Lady met with Gaffney at Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Hollings Cancer Center during a visit to promote breast cancer awareness. In February 2022, the President and First Lady reignited the Cancer Moonshot initiative, setting ambitious goals to end cancer as we know it.
Doug Griffin (Newton, New Hampshire)
Griffin lost his 20-year-old daughter, Courtney, in 2014 to a fentanyl overdose. Now, Griffin is turning his loss into action by supporting other families like his affected by addiction, raising awareness about the stigma associated with addiction, and calling for better access to substance use disorder treatment services. In 2021, Griffin penned a letter to the President and First Lady to share his family’s painful journey. Addressing stigma associated with addiction, raising awareness about the dangers of fentanyl, going after drug traffickers’ profits fueling the production of synthetic opioids, and dramatically expanding access treatment for substance use disorders are key focuses of President Biden’s National Drug Control Strategy – a whole-of-government approach to beat the overdose epidemic.
Saria Gwin-Maye (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Gwin-Maye is as an ironworker and member of Ironworkers Local 44 in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2023, she introduced the President at the Brent Spence Bridge in Covington, Kentucky, which is receiving a major investment thanks to the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Ironworkers like Gwin-Maye, and other union workers will get the opportunity to do work repairing Brent Spence Bridge and on other significant projects nationwide as a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Jacki Liszak (Fort Myers, Florida)
Liszak is the President and CEO of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce and is an elected Fire Commissioner for the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District. She and her husband also own and operate small businesses in the area. In 2022, the President and First Lady met Liszak when they surveyed the storm damage from Hurricane Ian. The President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act are lowering energy costs and making communities like Fort Myers more resilient to extreme weather events through record funding to strengthen and weatherize our nation’s power grid, roads, bridges, homes, public water systems and more.
Harry Miller (Upper-Arlington, Ohio)
Miller is a senior in mechanical engineering and a former football player for The Ohio State University. In 2022, he announced he would no longer continue to be a student-athlete to prioritize his mental health and has since become an advocate for mental health and emotional wellness. President Biden has named tackling the mental health crisis a key pillar of his Unity Agenda, laying out a strategy to transform how mental health is understood, perceived, accessed, treated, and integrated – in and out of health care settings. Since taking office, the Biden-Harris Administration has significantly increased federal government investments in mental health support for Americans across the country.
Gina and Heidi Nortonsmith (Northampton, Massachusetts)
The Nortonsmiths’ advocacy work as plaintiffs in Goodridge vs. MA Dept. of Public Health led to their state becoming the first in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. They celebrated this victory by getting married on the first day that same-sex marriage licenses were issued in Massachusetts in 2004. In 2022, the Nortonsmiths introduced the President at the Respect for Marriage Act celebration on the South Lawn of the White House.
Paul Pelosi (San Francisco, California)
Pelosi is a businessman, father, and husband of Speaker Emerita of the House Nancy Pelosi. Mr. Pelosi was violently attacked by an intruder in their California home in the fall of 2022. The attack reportedly was politically motivated, with the intruder’s alleged intent to harm and kidnap the former Speaker. According to court filings, the intruder confronted Mr. Pelosi, asking “Where’s Nancy?,” a similar chant of those responsible for the January 6th Capitol insurrection.
Paul Sarzoza (Phoenix, Arizona)
Sarzoza is a small business owner, serving as the President and CEO of Verde, a cleaning and facilities services company. His biggest customer is TSMC, a semiconductor manufacturing company, which is expanding because of the President’s CHIPS and Science Act. To keep up with the increased demand for his company’s services, Sarzoza plans to hire 150-200 employees in the next year. The growth of Sarzoza’s business demonstrates the Biden-Harris Administration’s economic plan at work.
Brandon Tsay (San Marino, California)
Tsay demonstrated remarkable courage when he disarmed the shooter responsible for the mass shooting at the Monterey Park Lunar New Year celebrations, ensuring his violent rage would not take more lives at the nearby Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio, which is owned by the Tsay family. Tsay is credited with preventing the gunman, who had killed 11 people and injured 10 others, from carrying out a second attack in Alhambra.
RowVaughn and Rodney Wells (Memphis, Tennessee)
RowVaughn and Rodney Wells are the mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year old unarmed Black man who was severely beaten by multiple police officers during an alleged traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee. Nichols was hospitalized afterwards and died three days later as a result of his injuries. President Biden has made clear that we must take action to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again. In addition to signing an executive order last year, the President continues to call on Congress to send the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to his desk.
Amanda and Josh Zurawski (Austin, Texas)
Amanda was 18 weeks pregnant when her water broke. She and her husband Josh were devastated, as they had been trying for a baby for over a year. Her doctors were unable to intervene to help her because they were concerned that providing the treatment she needed would violate the Texas abortion ban, which prohibits abortion care unless a woman’s life is in danger. She was sent home with instructions to come back if she developed signs of a life-threatening infection, which she did, three days later. Zurawski developed sepsis and nearly died because of the delay in receiving treatment. She continues to suffer from medical complications due to the delay.