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What the Obamas' guests over the years tell us about the state of our union.

Meet some of the people who've attended the State of the Union as guests.

What the Obamas' guests over the years tell us about the state of our union.

When it comes to the State of the Union, the first lady has the best seat in the house.

You'll find Michelle Obama enjoying tonight's speech from a balcony to the president's left. It's the same place she has watched each of the president's other six State of the Union addresses (2009's address wasn't technically a State of the Union).


First lady Michelle Obama waves before President Obama's State of the Union speech at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2015. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

As has been tradition for nearly 30 years, she'll be joined by some special guests.

It's tradition that the president and first lady invite special guests to the State of the Union, and this year is no different. This year's group, seated around Michelle Obama, includes small-business owners, veterans, college students, state and local politicians, activists, a CEO, a police chief, and a Syrian refugee.

Past presidents have invited similarly diverse subsections of the country to the address, ranging from unsung heroes to individuals who simply represent a common struggle. In 2002, President George W. Bush invited the flight attendants who thwarted the "shoe bomb" attack; in 2000, President Bill Clinton invited baseball legend Hank Aaron.

President Obama blows a kiss to the first lady before delivering his State of the Union address on Feb. 12, 2013. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

No spot is as coveted as the one directly next to the first lady. Traditionally, it's been reserved for some very special guests.

During President Obama's administration, the seat has been filled by loved ones of shooting victims, first responders, a veteran, and others. And as the president makes his strongest push for gun control yet, 2016's won't be any different, with an empty chair left to represent all the victims of gun violence.

Let's take a look back at some of Michelle Obama's past guests and the causes they represented:

2015: Michelle Obama spends time with Rebekah Erler, an embodiment of economic resilience.

At the time of the State of the Union, Rebekah Erler was a 36-year-old accountant, wife, and mother of two boys. Her story was powerful largely because of how unremarkable and relatable it was.

Erler and her husband were hit hard by the Great Recession. Her husband's construction business failed, and the two of them bounced from job to job thereafter, making their way from Seattle to Minneapolis.

After attending her local community college, Erler found accounting work, and together, she and her husband bought their first home. Still, the two found themselves buried under a mountain of bills and expenses. Her invite represented all the hard-working American families who still barely scrape by, stretched thin.

First lady Michelle Obama and Rebekah Erler during the 2015 State of the Union address. Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images.

2014: Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg symbolizes the need for an efficient VA.

The president closed his speech with an anecdote about Sgt. Remsburg, a 10-deployment veteran who was nearly killed when a roadside bomb went off in Afghanistan, leaving shrapnel in his brain. His recovery was long and hard, but after emerging from a coma, Remsburg made a near-full recovery.

"Men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy," said President Obama. "Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged. But for more than 200 years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress — to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen."

Michelle Obama and Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg before the State of the Union on Jan. 28, 2014. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

2013: Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton knows true loss.

On Jan. 29, 2013, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed on Chicago's South Side. Just two weeks after the King College Prep honor student's death, President Obama was to deliver the annual State of the Union. Hadiya's parents, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel A. Pendleton, attended the speech, sitting next to the first lady.

President Obama referenced the Pendletons while calling on Congress to vote on common-sense gun measures.

"Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence," said the president. "They deserve a vote. They deserve a vote. Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek and Tucson and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote. They deserve a simple vote."

Michelle Obama and Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton during the State of the Union on Feb. 13, 2013. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

2012: Astronaut Mark Kelly takes a stand against gun violence.

Best-selling author, astronaut, and retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly joined Michelle Obama for the 2012 State of the Union. His wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, survived a January 2011 assassination attempt. Ever since, Kelly and Giffords have advocated on behalf of gun control.

Mark Kelly with Michelle Obama before President Obama's address on Jan. 24, 2012. Photo by Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images.

2011: John and Roxanna Green, whose daughter was killed just days earlier in the assassination attempt on Gabby Giffords' life.

In the immediate aftermath of the Tucson shooting, President Obama invited John and Roxanna Green to be guests at the State of the Union.

Their daughter, Christina-Taylor, was born on Sept. 11, 2001, and her life was cut tragically short in the attack.


Michelle Obama applauds during the president's State of the Union on Jan. 25, 2011. Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images.

2010: Fort Hood first responders demonstrate bravery in the face of terror.

Mark Todd and Kimberly Munley were two first responders at the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 dead and more than 30 injured. Their fearlessness earned them a spot on the guest list to the annual address.


Police officers Mark Todd and Kimberly Munley of Killeen, Texas, join Michelle Obama before President Obama's first State of the Union on Jan. 27, 2010. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

There's certainly a trend here: gun violence.

The families of gun violence victims have been heavily represented during President Obama's terms in office, and tonight, with an empty chair, is no different.

In a room filled with some of the most powerful people on Earth, it's good to see everyday people get recognition.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

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Amazon

Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

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Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

Even as millions of Americans celebrated the inauguration of President Joe Biden this week, the nation also mourned the fact that, for the first time in modern history, the United States did not have a peaceful transition of power.

With the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, when pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to stop the constitutional process of counting electoral votes and where terrorists threatened to kill lawmakers and the vice president for not keeping Trump in power, our long and proud tradition was broken. And although presidential power was ultimately transferred without incident on January 20, the presence of 20,000 National Guard troops around the Capitol reminded us of the threat that still lingers.

First Lady Jill Biden showed up today with cookies in hand for a group of National Guard troops at the Capitol to thank them for keeping her family safe. The homemade chocolate chip cookies were a small token of appreciation, but one that came from the heart of a mother whose son had served as well.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.