On Tuesday, a little after 9 p.m. EST, President Barack Obama was treated like a rock star as he made his way to the podium to deliver his first State of the Union address of his second term. He did the usual meet and greet, with lots of kisses, cheers and handshakes. His energy was up, his smile brilliant, his punctuations in the correct places, his suit and tie alpha-ready.
But one person upstaged the president as he urged bipartisanship in Congress, laid out a manifesto for alternative energy, called for raising the minimum wage, gun control legislation, education reform, job growth and solutions to all the myriad ills plaguing the US. That person was a 102-year old guest of first lady Michelle Obama.
Desiline Victor, a century and two years young and impeccably dressed, beamed even brighter as the president acknowledged her small but powerfully significant part in our democratic process. Victor, a Haitian immigrant, was so eager to vote in the last election that she waited more than three hours in North Miami to participate in early voting on Oct. 28. Voting is important to her; she came to America in 1989 but only became a naturalized citizen in 2005.
After waiting in line that long, she was told to come back later. An ordinary person would have been furious and might have given up, but not Desiline Victor. At this advanced age, she came back later in the evening, and this time she was able to cast her vote. Her determination inspired others at the poll that day who would otherwise have given up. Many said if she could endure, they could too. Victor's story also became the symbol of voter suppression, and civil rights groups like Advancement Project called her the “American voter story of 2012.”
Little did she know that her tenacity would lead to such pomp and circumstance, with her being a guest of Michelle Obama, sitting high in the esteemed House Chamber to listen to the president give the State of the Union address. By now I think you’ve guessed who she voted for?
When Obama took the time to speak of her, the entire chamber clapped, stood and craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the centenarian star. She basked in the acknowledgment and applause and beamed some more. In fact, I think that was the only time there were genuine smiles and cheers coming from every member on both sides of the aisle. Even dour Speaker John Boehner managed to rearrange his leather tanned features into a semblance of a smile.
Rumor has it Victor got the royal treatment and was ensconced at the Hamilton Crowne Plaza Hotel in Washington when she flew in from Miami.
Elsewhere in the speech, Obama acknowledged the victims of the Sandy Hook elementary shooting massacre, saying passionately “The family of Newtown deserve a vote,” referring to legislation on gun control stalled in Congress. He also spoke at length about 15-year old Hadiya Pendleton who was gunned down in Chicago on Jan. 29, only a week after performing at his inauguration. Her parents were present, also as guest of the first lady, who attended the teen’s funeral Saturday.