On Jan. 26, 1982, President Ronald Reagan began the tradition of honoring extraordinary Americans during the annual State of the Union address.
These presidential guests have been called “Skutniks” after Lenny Skutnik, a Congressional Budget Office employee who dove into the icy Potomac River in 1982 to drag a woman to safety after a plane crash.
Reagan invited Skutnik to sit with first lady Nancy Reagan, and during his speech hailed Skutnik for exemplifying “the spirit of American heroism at its finest.”
In the following years, invited guests have included teachers, war heroes, athletes and celebrities.
The White House usually invites guests whose stories “illustrate themes in the president’s speech,” the Boston Globe notes.
During the 1990s, President Bill Clinton invited baseball player Sammy Sosa in recognition for his relief efforts in the Dominican Republic. Later, President George W. Bush invited two flight attendants who helped stop a shoe bomb from detonating. President Barack Obama has invited the parents of Christina Taylor Green and Hadiya Pendleton, two victims of gun violence.
We’ve highlighted the most memorable invited SOTU guests from the past 33 years. Watch the video above.
For a full list of past invited presidential guests, click here.