Although you likely didn’t see me, I had the honor of attending the State of the Union speech on Tuesday night as one of several guests invited by House Speaker John Boehner. It was exciting to be there and to have the opportunity to witness this piece of history unfold before my eyes.
After attending the Speaker’s reception and meeting his guests, like Ted Kremer, former batboy for the Cincinnati Reds, two adorable fourth graders from a local school in Washington, and a Cardinal from the Archdiocese of Washington, I was ushered into Gallery 3 and took my seat in Row B, Seat 1. It was a packed house, and every seat in the Gallery was taken; some people were actually assigned to sit in the aisle on the cement steps.
When you’re looking at the president on television, Gallery B is above the main floor where the members of Congress sit and directly across from the First Lady’s box. While it may not look it, the Gallery is far from the main floor—my guess is about three stories.
I sat in the same section with the wives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Sylvia Panetta, wife of Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, shared with me that she was a nurse and volunteered with the Red Cross when she was younger. She thanked me for all that we do, and I thanked her right back for her and her husband’s service. Since my own husband and dad served in the military and my stepson is in the Air Force, I felt extraordinarily proud to sit with these women whose lives have been defined by sacrifice and service to our country.
I admit, I was overcome by the pomp and circumstance of it all. As you know, all three branches of government were represented, reminding me of our system of checks and balances. The Supreme Court justices parading in with their robes. Members of the House and Senate from different parties sitting together. And the president, entering and being bombarded with handshakes, smiles, and thunderous applause.
In the crowd, I picked out dozens of senators and members of Congress who participated in our Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign, and I saw several cabinet members who work closely with us on disaster response operations and blood collection. In my own box, I saw fellow New Yorker Tony Bennett.
There were several times I found myself tearing up at the wonderful display of freedom playing out before me. Some members of Congress resoundingly applauded the president’s every word, while others crossed their arms and frowned. At times there were heartfelt signs of bipartisan support. While we all complain about the gridlock in Washington, at least we have the freedom to disagree. Not everyone around the world has these freedoms, and I feel very thankful to be a citizen in a country that does.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime evening. I was honored to sit in Gallery 3, Row B, Seat 1, representing Red Crossers everywhere, having a bird’s eye view of the State of the Union.