By Nathan Johnson
Yankton was well-represented in Washington, D.C., this week during the State of the Union address. Two Yankton High School graduates were in privileged positions for the event.
Sadie Stevens, a sophomore at American University and an intern for Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), attended the State of the Union address as a guest of the congresswoman.
Meanwhile, Stacie Hunhoff, a law clerk for the Honorable Carol L. Van Horn of the Court of Common Pleas in Chambersburg, Pa., watched the speech from the White House after being selected to take part in a White House Social.
Stevens said she couldn’t believe it when Noem invited her to attend President Barack Obama’s address.
“I never thought I would ever have this experience in my entire life,” she wrote in an email interview with the Press & Dakotan. “Earlier that morning, when I was sent to pick up the ticket from the Sergeant-at-Arm's office, I thought to myself, ‘This is the only time in my life I will ever get to hold tickets for the State of the Union Address.’”
It wasn’t until after picking up the tickets that Stevens was told she could go as Noem’s guest.
“I am truly blessed,” she said. “There was no good reason for my superiors to give me the ticket; I’m just an intern. However, that's just the personality of Rep. Noem and her staff. They constantly think of others before themselves. I see evidence of this every time I am at the Capitol.”
Stevens was seated on President Obama's right-hand side, directly in line with Vice President Joe Biden. On her right was one of President Obama's campaign aides, and on her left was the father of Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.).
Despite attempts to do so, Stevens said she hadn’t accurately imagined what it would be like to sit in the House visitors’ gallery in the Capitol during the speech.
“The highlight of the night for me was seeing all three branches of our government in one room,” she stated. “How many times do you get to see the president, vice president, secretary of state, the Supreme Court justices, and all the senators and representatives together? It was a reminder of what a fantastic system our country has. You really gain a new perspective when you go from reading about our government in textbooks to seeing our government in person.”
In Hunhoff’s case, she had seen a tweet from the White House Feb. 6 inviting people to apply for the opportunity to watch the State of the Union address from the White House itself.
“I jumped at the opportunity,” Hunhoff stated in an email interview with the Press & Dakotan. “I applied and nearly immediately forgot that I had applied. The next day, I received an email saying I had been selected to attend. There were over 2,000 people who applied and approximately 100 were selected from around the country. I felt very fortunate and honored to have been selected.”
The event was part of the White House Social series, which are in-person meetings of people who engage with the White House through social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest.
On Tuesday, Hunhoff found herself in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which adjoins the White House.
“They had screens set up where they would broadcast the ‘enhanced livestream’ of the president’s speech,” she said. “In addition to being shown to us, the livestream was available through the White House’s website. The livestream had the president giving his speech and, next to it, were graphics, statistics and pictures that coordinated with what he was talking about at that point. For example, when the president was talking about the improvement of the housing market, there was a graphic of how the housing market has fared over the last number of years.”
The atmosphere in the room was “fantastic,” according to Hunhoff. The 100 or so individuals in attendance were all politically-engaged people, she said.
“When the president walked into the House chamber, our entire room erupted in applause,” Hunhoff stated. “When he made a joke, the room laughed. When he started talking of the need for comprehensive immigration reform, there were cheers and loud applause.”
Immigration is an issue that is particularly close to Hunhoff’s heart. She has accepted a two-year judicial law clerkship with the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review at the Immigration Court in Memphis, Tenn. That job will begin in September.
Between the audible reactions, Hunhoff said people furiously typed away on their computers, phones and tablets.
“For someone like me who loves and has been involved in politics, and has been from a very young age, this room was exactly where I wanted to be during the State of the Union — short of being in the House chamber, of course,” she stated.
Hunhoff has had that experience, too. In 2002, she attended the State of the Union while serving as a Senate page.
Keeping with the spirit of the event, Hunhoff used Twitter to share her thoughts on the speech.
“Overall, I thought the President gave a great speech,” she said. “I really enjoyed how he spoke of the need for compromise and bipartisanship. I thought the portion of his speech near the end where he spoke of gun violence and how legislative proposals need to be given an up-and-down vote in Congress was really powerful and hopefully will lead to some action by the Congress.”
Following the speech, a panel of White House officials took questions from audience members who were present or watching via social media.
Hunhoff said the experience showed her how social media can be a powerful tool.
“The White House uses it very well by using it to talk to their constituents,” she stated. “Social media is no longer just for 20-somethings. It’s no longer just used for chatting with friends. The White House is using it to figure out what is important to the public and its reaction — both good and bad — to what is going on in the world. Many companies/organizations are doing great things with social media, but a lot more could stand to learn a thing or two. You have a happier constituency when you are receptive to what they’re telling you. The White House has figured that out.”
The whole evening was a highlight, according to Hunhoff.
“It’s definitely a night I will never forget,” she said. “Who can say they were at the White House during the State of the Union?”
Stevens said her reaction to the speech was mixed.
“I agree with President Obama that we have a spectacular country,” she stated. “I also agree with him that our economy is a mess, and he needs to get to work. I disagree that it is the fault of the GOP. He has been in office for four years, and he needs to start taking responsibility for the economic mess.”
Stevens has entered her second semester working for Noem. She said every day, including Tuesday’s State of the Union address, has been an exciting adventure.
“Rep. Noem has a fantastic staff,” Stevens stated. “They are some of the kindest, most competent people I have ever met. Interning for Rep. Noem has been one of my best experiences in D.C. Officially, I am an ‘unpaid’ intern. However, that is false. Educationally, I have one of the highest paid jobs — and the best part is, no one can tax me on it.”
To read more: http://www.yankton.net/articles/2013/02/15/community/doc511db90125a03661941202.txt