On Tuesday, President Biden will deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress—his first since Democrats lost their majority in the House. He’ll be hosting not just lawmakers but a special group of hand-selected guests, a tradition that dates back to the 1980s. It’s considered an opportunity for the president to invite average Americans that have distinguished themselves in some field of service or endeavor.
Typically, the president and first lady invite about two dozen guests to sit in the House gallery during the address. This year, lawmakers were also allowed to invite their own guests, a practice that had been put on pause due to COVID-19—and one even scheming Republican George Santos decided to capitalize on.
Some impressive guests have attended in the past: Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks attended one of Bill Clinton’s State of the Unions, NBA star and humanitarian Dikembe Mutombo was invited under George W. Bush, and 16-year-old Jack Andraka came to one of Barack Obama’s addresses after developing a method to detect pancreatic cancer.
Who is invited to this year’s SOTU? A lot of people, so we rounded up some of the guests expected to attend—but since all lawmakers can invite someone, this list is not comprehensive:
RowVaughn and Rodney Wells
The mother and stepfather of the late Tyre Nichols accepted an invitation to this year’s address from Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford of Nevada. Nichols died after he was beaten by five Memphis police officers, each of whom was subsequently charged with second-degree murder. Horsford said he invited the Nichols family so that they could hear firsthand how Congress would be taking action to keep communities safe.
The 26-year-old stopped a gunman at his family’s dance hall in Monterey Park, California. Democratic Rep. Judy Chu, whose district includes Monterey Park, invited Tsay after saying that his story “was so amazing.” He also received a personal phone call from the president to thank him for his act of bravery.
Oliver lost his 17-year-old son during the 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Freshman Rep. Maxwell Frost invited Oliver to Tuesday night’s address to highlight “the continued need for gun reform and gun violence prevention.”
When Zurawski was 18 weeks pregnant, her water broke and she developed sepsis, a life-threatening infection— but her doctor refused to intervene, citing Texas’ abortion laws. First Lady Jill Biden invited Zurawski and her husband to the president’s address to highlight the consequences of local abortion bans.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s husband was violently attacked in the couple’s San Francisco home last year, when an intruder broke in looking for the former speaker, who was not there at the time. First Lady Jill Biden invited Pelosi.
First Lady Jill Biden invited the lead singer of U2 in recognition of his efforts to build political support for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
The ambassador of Ukraine will be attending the president’s address for the second year in a row. Her visit comes a little over a month after Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s met with Biden at the White House.
Cohen, a Holocaust survivor and volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is a special guest of Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, who recently paid a visit to Auschwitz in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Mitzi Colin Lopez
First Lady Jill Biden invited Colin Lopez, a DACA recipient and an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform who met with the president last year to share her experience.
Democratic Rep. Nanette D. Barragán of California invited Julianna, a 20-year-old Texas abortion rights activist with Gen-Z for Change, crediting her with “uplifting youth activism in such a meaningful way.” Julianna went viral on Twitter after Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz tweeted her image next to a news story in which he described abortion rights activists as “disgusting” and overweight.
His tweet caused Julianna to receive nasty online attacks, but she responded with a fundraising campaign that raked in over $2 million for Gen-Z for Change’s Abortion Fund.
Woodie, an Amazon delivery driver, called 911 after seeing Republican Rep. Greg Steube fall off a 25-foot-high ladder last month. Steube invited Woodie, whom he described as “the epitome of a Good Samaritan,” to be his official guest at this week’s address.
Jeffrey T. Smith
New York Rep. Elise Stefanik invited Montgomery County Sheriff Smith to Biden’s address to thank him for his 34 years in law enforcement. “Sheriff Smith and countless other members of law enforcement are on the frontlines every day protecting our communities,” Stefanik said in a statement.
Rahmani, the former Afghan ambassador to the U.S., has been an outspoken advocate for women’s rights in Afghanistan, saying, “What happens to Afghan women is what happens to Afghanistan and its future, for better or for worse.” Republican Rep. Mike McCaul invited her to be his guest, according to CNN. He is currently leading a House Foreign Affairs Committee investigation into the Biden administration’s 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan, with hearings slated to begin next month. McCaul told CNN a big focus of his investigation will be Afghan women’s diminished rights.
Embattled Republican Rep. George Santos invited Weinstock, a former volunteer firefighter during 9/11 and a practicing lawyer who once ran for the House district that Santos now represents. Weinstock told the New York Times that he suffers from a neurological condition related to his time as a firefighter, and he hopes to bring attention to 9/11-related health issues by attending.
Santos, who has lied about many aspects of his background, at one point also claimed his mother was at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and died as a result of the attack—though her obituary and local news coverage indicate that she died in 2016.
Tate, who is serving as Michigan’s first Black House Speaker, will be at Tuesday’s address after receiving an invitation from Rep. Shri Thanedar. Thanedar* said that Tate’s policy priorities uplift Michigan families while protecting workers’ rights and investing in education.
A bus driver for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, DeShields was invited to Biden’s address by Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle after he successfully foiled would-be carjackers by blocking their path with his 40-foot-long bus. Boyle said that DeShields’ actions were “a true example of an ordinary person who did an extraordinary thing.”
Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson invited Dirks for his work training service dogs for veterans and children with autism. He previously spent a decade in the Army National Guard, including a deployment to Afghanistan. Dirks described the invitation as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Kelly graduated from an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers pre-apprenticeship program to become a construction wireman. Democratic Rep. Nikki Budzinski said she invited Kelly because she represents how important apprenticeships are to the country’s economy.
Williams is an in-home caregiver who has spent her career helping the elderly and disabled. Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal invited Williams because the importance of care work “became abundantly clear” over the course of the pandemic, she said in a statement. She vowed to fight for higher wages and job protections for caregivers.
A Navy veteran and Syracuse University student, Pollard was the first person hired by Micron Technology, a semiconductor manufacturer best known for supplying memory to computer makers, at its new facility in Clay, New York. Democratic Rep. Chuck Schumer invited him as an example of the promise of Micron’s plans for central New York. The company has said it hopes to bring 9,000 jobs to the area over the next 20 years.
Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee invited Cramer, a dry-bean grower in Michigan who also serves as executive director of the Michigan Bean Commission. Cramer’s work represents “the backbone of Michigan’s diverse agricultural economy,” Kildee said in a statement.
A fifth-generation rancher from Colorado, Bruchez operates a ranch with his family and is spearheading a restoration project along 12 miles of the Colorado River. Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet invited Bruchez to SOTU to spotlight “the extreme drought conditions the West faces and the need for action.”
Pellissier is the executive director of Nevada’s Crisis Support Services, which operates the state’s crisis hotline and one of the nation’s twelve 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline backup call centers. Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto invited her in order to highlight the hotline’s work and the push for better mental health care.
Correction, Feb. 7, 2023: This piece originally misstated the gender of Rep. Shri Thanedar. The congressman uses he/him pronouns.