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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.

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.

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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Girls are bombarded with messages from a very young age telling them that they can’t, that is too big, this is too heavy, those are too much.

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Pop Culture

Artist uses AI to create ultra realistic portraits of celebrities who left us too soon

What would certain icons look like if nothing had happened to them?

Mercury would be 76 today.

Some icons have truly left this world too early. It’s a tragedy when anyone doesn’t make it to see old age, but when it happens to a well-known public figure, it’s like a bit of their art and legacy dies with them. What might Freddie Mercury have created if he were granted the gift of long life? Bruce Lee? Princess Diana?

Their futures might be mere musings of our imagination, but thanks to a lot of creativity (and a little tech) we can now get a glimpse into what these celebrities might have looked like when they were older.

Alper Yesiltas, an Istanbul-based lawyer and photographer, created a photography series titled “As If Nothing Happened,” which features eerily realistic portraits of long gone celebrities in their golden years. To make the images as real looking as possible, Yesiltas incorporated various photo editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom and VSCO, as well as the AI photo-enhancing software Remini.

“The hardest part of the creative process for me is making the image feel ‘real’ to me,” Yesiltas wrote about his passion project. “The moment I like the most is when I think the image in front of me looks as if it was taken by a photographer.”

Yesiltas’ meticulousness paid off, because the results are uncanny.

Along with each photo, Yesiltas writes a bittersweet message “wishing” how things might have gone differently … as if nothing happened.
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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

Joe Biden's White House Competition Council is making airline prices transparent.

Have you ever seen a fantastic deal on an airplane ticket but as you are checking out you realize there are fees for just about everything? Your $99 airfare balloons up to $250 after you add baggage fees, carry-on charges, seat selection and insurance. Some airlines even charge an additional fee for unaccompanied minors.

Pretty soon, what seemed like a good deal on a cheap carrier costs more than if you bought a ticket on a full-service airline.

The Biden administration is announcing new rules that will make airline ticket fees more transparent to consumers. Under the proposed new rule, the first time your fee is displayed, travel websites will have to disclose any fees for baggage, cancellations or to sit with your child.

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As the saying goes, "You have to kiss a few frogs..."

Dating has certainly evolved over the years—we’ve gone from courtship being purely a financial arrangement (not that this trend has ever truly died) to knights jousting for a lady’s favor, to casual hookups … and now, romance is primarily found through an app more than anything else.

Technology used for meeting that special someone has become so advanced that you can base your search entirely upon specific interests. Like … oddly specific interests. Think a fellow cat person would be the purrfect match? There’s an app for that. Wish to “love long and prosper” with a fellow Trekkie? There’s an app for that too.

No matter the changes, one thing remains the same—dating is awkward. It’s got all the unspoken formalities of a job interview, disguised as innocent fun. The balance between playing it too cool and too eager is hard to find even for the smoothest among us, and usually results in total embarrassment. Even if we aren’t the ones committing those embarrassing acts ourselves, we are often the reluctant witness to them.

Terrible dates might not always be fun in the moment, but they can be just as important as the good ones. They can teach us a lot about ourselves and what qualities we want in a partner. And at the very least, they can teach us to embrace social clumsiness with a sense of humor.

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share a “funny or embarrassing first date story” for his ever popular #Hashtags segment. The best part—some of these awful first dates ended in marriage. There’s hope for us all.

Below, find 15 stories that are truly the best of the worst. How do some of your first dates compare?

1. "After a nice dinner, she invited me to her house. On the way up, inside the elevator, I decided to push the button to stop between floors and give her a kiss... She had a phobia of closed spaces and she smacked my face as a reflex, two punches after we were kissing and laughing.” – @PanqueAlgarvio

2. “His jeans were so tight he couldn’t sit down. Stood at a bar stool the whole time.” – @onlyintheozarks

3. “Waiting 4 my date when an older couple asked me for a ride. my date came up and said sure! We drove them home & they asked us to come in. Date said “sure”. I pulled him back & asked why he wanted to hang w/strangers. He said ‘sh@t! YOU DON'T KNOW THEM!?’ We bolted!” – @natashaham75

facebook dating

Talk about a fashion faux pas.

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4. “Before the date, we had been chatting about books we liked and I talked about a great book I just read. We went on the date. I loaned her the book. She ghosted me.” – @thenextbarstool

5. “The worst first date I ever had was when my date locked his keys in the car and I had a curfew so he had to break his car window out to get me home on time. Didn’t think I’d ever see him again but we wound up married.” – @csleblan

6. “First date movie ‘Basic Instinct’ not realizing how suggestive it was. We just thought it was a mystery thriller! We left the movie discussing how each character could have actually murdered someone. We're married now.” – @Southrnbell_Amy

black people meet

There are worse first date movies tbh.

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7. “First date with my ex husband was a double date with his parents. The preview for ‘Speed Racer’ came on, and she leaned over me to say to her son, ‘You know what your dad's nickname in the bedroom is?’" – @theostoria

8. “A friend asked me on a double date as a blind date with his date's friend. I went to the bathroom and came back just in time to hear my date say to her friend, ‘why do I get the ugly one?’ I said good night to all three and headed home, leaving her w/the bill.” – @StevenTrustum

9. “He loved cheese. I was subjected to a 2 hour conversation/lecture about cheese, and why cottage cheese is not cheese!” – @Optimist_Eeyore

bumble

I'd like to see this two-hour cheese lecture.

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10. “He took me to an Asian fish market. We walked around looking at live & dead fish for a while. I don’t like seeing dead animals & I don’t eat seafood. Then we sat on a curb & he pulled out a ziplock bag of pineapple for us to share. I don’t like pineapple.” – @markayhali

11. “My cousin set up a first date for me with a family friend. During a break from dinner, Mr. Man follows me into the ladies’ room, comes up close and says in a low voice, ‘I shave my butt.’ Can’t remember what I said in response but the evening ended abruptly.” – @carli_zarzana

12. “I once took out my high school crush to a sports bar and ordered the spiciest wings there in an attempt to impress her. Not only was she not impressed. The next morning I woke up with heartburn.” –@Dmonster38

tindr conversation starters

Talk about a hot date.

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13. “My date showed up with his bestie and girlfriend, and they talked through dinner about people I don’t know. Walking to the car, he gave me a wedgie because he thought he hadn’t been paying enough attention to me.” – @surrealDazey


14. “I was taking my date home and was pulled over by the police for speeding. When the cop came to my car, she jumped out and told him she had to get home. She walked home and I never heard from her again. I'm not sure who's #WorstFirstDate it was mine or hers!” – @eastriverbear

15. “After an evening of dancing with a first date, leaving the dance hall, I had to take a quick pee break. Rushing out to the parking lot, I see a lady, I grab her and swoop her around, and plant a big wet kiss on the lips. She was another guy's wife. Oops!” – @seadogskamore

date you

Only Gomez could have gotten away with it.

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