COMMENTARY: A site for conversations, connections

Originally from the Courier-Post

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Building was alive on Tuesday with the buzz of about 60 people chosen from thousands of applicants who explained in 140 characters or less why they wanted to see and live tweet President Barack Obama’s fifth State of the Union address.

The White House is calling this year’s State of the Union “the most accessible and interactive.” This proved true as guests took to Twitter and other social-media sites. Although the Wi-Fi networks were slow, participants were still able to convey the president’s message to the world.

Obama noted early in his speech that 2014 would be a “year of action” by explaining how the programs he plans on improving have already benefited citizens:

• “A teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.”

• “An entrepreneur flipped on the lights in her tech startup, and did her part to add to the more than 8 million new jobs our businesses have created over the past four years.”

• “An autoworker fine-tuned some of the best, most fuel-efficient cars in the world, and did his part to help America wean itself off foreign oil.”

He acknowledged that Congress was difficult to work with at times, but said the recent budget compromise should “leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crises.”

In addition to job creation, the president covered a wide variety of topics, including taking care of our veterans and wounded soldiers, unemployment and immigration reform, energy efficiency, early childhood education, and college affordability.

State of the Union participants agreed with statements by snapping their fingers or clapping; they were the most enthusiastic about equal pay for women and the success of the Affordable Care Act.

Obama listed many goals he hopes to accomplish this year, but in order to accomplish them, the nation needs to work together.

One example mentioned repeatedly was Costco, which raised its workers’ wages without government intervention. The president and panel members wondered why Congress couldn’t help pass the bill to raise the national minimum wage.

Immediately following Obama’s address, a panel of five members took questions from the live audience and via social media in the #SOTUChat, which trended nationwide. Issues covered included STEM education, deportation, the ACA and millennials, and a minimum-wage raise for government contract workers.

Unfortunately, there was not enough time for all questions, including my own question about childhood obesity. But the conversation doesn’t end with the State of the Union.

The Obama administration hosted its first virtual “Big Block of Cheese Day” on Wednesday. The idea stemmed from President Andrew Jackson in 1837, when he hosted an open house with a 1,400-pound block sitting in the White House foyer. Thousands were allowed to enter the White House to interact with staff and Cabinet members. The virtual open house allowed citizens to interact with White House officials in real-time on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Google+ Hangout.

This year’s increased interactivity showed how social media could bring together people from across the nation in a positive way; #SOTUSocial guests, including myself, met up for a tour of the White House and coffee to get to know each other, discuss the issues at hand and create connections.

We came from all over the country and varied in age and interests. Some were students and professors; others were Washington, D.C., locals. It was the experience of a lifetime, and many were grateful to be part of such a small, privileged group.

Take a look and be part of the conversation.

Waldy Diez is student station manager of Rowan Radio 89.7 FM and a former Courier-Post intern.

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