Tonight marks the 30th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s first acknowledgement of an average American during a State of the Union address.
Reagan used that moment in 1982 to praise the heroism of a government employee who risked his life to save a victim of the Air Florida Flight 90 crash, The Washington Post blog the Federal Eye reports.
Since Reagan singled out Lenny Skutnik, a Congressional Budget Office employee, dozens of everyday Americans have been invited to the speech to sit with the first lady and represent various themes presidents are highlighting in their speech.
Skutnik had jumped into the icy Potomac River to help rescue survivors of the crash and, as Reagan put it, represented “the spirit of American heroism as its finest.”
Reagan added: “We saw the heroism of one of our young government employees, Lenny Skutnik, who, when he saw a woman lose her grip on the helicopter line, dived into the water and dragged her to safety.”
Reagan then saluted Skutnik and history was made and precedent set. Since then, sports heroes, military veterans, crime victims, family members of killed soldiers, children’s advocates and human rights advocates have all shared the stage.
Among the White House guests this year is Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was injured in a shooting spree that killed six and wounded a dozen others, according to the Post.
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