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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.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via Wikimedia Commons and Goalsetter

America's ethnic wealth gap is a multi-faceted problem that would take dramatic action, on multiple fronts, to overcome. One of the ways to help communities improve their economic well-being is through financial literacy.

Investopedia says there are five primary sources of financial education—families, high school, college, employers, and the military — and that education and household income are two of the biggest factors in predicting whether someone has a high level of financial literacy.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.