Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Early Tuesday morning the White House extended an official invitation to Columbus Elementary schoolteacher and Chester native Sara Ferguson to sit beside Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden in the First Lady’s viewing box for the State of the Union Address later that night.
Ferguson is one of the teachers who offered to work without pay earlier this month when it seemed that the Chester-Upland District would run out of money after severe budget cuts last summer. Since then the District has filed a lawsuit against the state, which was ordered to forward Chester-Upland $3.2 million dollars to stay afloat until the February 23rd hearing.
For the last three decades the First Lady’s Box at the State of the Union Address has symbolically included Americans who “exemplify the themes and ideals” laid out in the President’s speech:
At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced States to lay off thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance. Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies – just to make a difference.
Ferguson is a third-generation educator who teaches literacy and math in Chester-Upland. During the speech, alongside her sat Bruce Cochran of Lincoln, North Carolina, president and CEO of a family furniture manufacturing company that reconsidered outsourcing their production and Sergeant Ashleigh Berg, of Malibu California, who has served two tours in Iraq.
Also in the First Lady’s Box was Mark Krieger, co-founder of Instagram, the fastest growing social mobile startup in the U.S., Mahala Greer, a student graduating with $35,000 in student loans, and Lauren Powelle Jobs, entrepreneur, educator and wife of the late Steve Jobs.