Beyond the Bucket List – My State of the Union Experience

SOTU TicketWhere to start? Being invited as a Special Guest to the State of the Union by one’s sitting Congressman … my goodness.

I’m not certain I have a “bucket list.” If I have something on “my list” then I try to get after it as soon as possible. But even if I did have a list of those “once in a lifetime” or “beyond everyday reach” types of items … since attending the State of the Union Address is not really something within my control, it probably wouldn’t have been on it. No question, however, I have been the recipient of a marvelous experience and opportunity for making memories, all because of the graciousness of Congressman Tim Walz and his staff.

Congressman Walz was generous with his praise when he personally called to invite me in late December … and when I played the voicemail for my wife, Ginger, she cried. I don’t know if that was because of the nice things the Congressman said or because she is so enamored with our country’s rich history, and what Washington D.C. and the State of the Union represent. None the less, her reaction galvanized for me just how big of a deal this was.

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Jonathan Zierdt, president & CEO of Greater Mankato Growth, Inc.

While only in D.C. Monday evening thru Wednesday noon … I of course tried to “shoe-horn” in a number of tourist types of activities. This included visiting the White House, which happened to be at the very same time the NBC Today show was interviewing the President and getting a peek inside the building. I visited the National Museum of the American Indian … if you aren’t aware this building has a very unique architectural design, and is completely constructed out of Mankato’s very own Kasota Stone … beautiful. I also had the opportunity to visit the Library of Congress (and although I tried, I wasn’t able to spy the room that contains the President’s Book of Secrets), walked by the Supreme Court building and toured the Capitol itself.

Congressman Walz and his staff were very generous with their time, helping me with the logistics of my schedule as well as taking time to visit. And I really enjoyed the opportunities Congressman Walz and I had to spend time with one another, talking about life in Greater Mankato as well as public policy.  While people have varying opinions and perspectives and may not always agree, our mutual respect and assuming the best of anyone (as the Congressman often says) allow us to have robust and productive conversations.

I had the opportunity to have lunch with Congressman Walz in the U.S. House of Representatives Member & Guest Dining Room. We attended a reception hosted by Minority Leader Pelosi, where I met some really interesting folks, including Senator Elizabeth Dole who is working closing with Leader Pelosi on joint legislation related to caregivers and wounded veterans.

But the pinnacle activity … the State of the Union Address. As a guest, I was at my seat in the gallery by approximately 7:15 p.m. (nearly a full two hours prior to the start of the actual Address). My seat in the Gallery (aka balcony) was straight across from the President, about 10 seats to the right of that big clock in the center of the balcony you see when the cameras pan that direction. I had a chance to visit with two U.S. Capitol Police Officers stationed at the door entering the area in which I was seated, and for the “perch” I had, the people watching was immense. The House floor is reserved for the Representatives, Senators, Supreme Court Justices and the Diplomatic Core. And of course, although not as dramatic as perhaps it is on TV, a highlight had to be the very moment when the Sergeant at Arms vigorously calls out, “Mr. Speaker … the President of the United States.”

As so many have said the speech was different than most, it certainly contained elements that I think can resonate with each of us. Among such is to exchange freely our differences of opinion and rather than let such be divisive, allow it to serve as a catalyst for us to convene and engage toward crafting collective greatness and positive impact.

While most of the guests had to remain in their gallery sections immediately following the address to allow the President and other “high ranking” officials to exit … Congressman Walz came to my seat in the gallery and personally escorted me out. We quickly were well behind the “fire wall” and had the opportunity to follow behind or pass by a multitude of these high ranking officials including the five Supreme Court Justices attending the address. We passed through Statutory Hall and what Congressman Walz refers to as the national media “scrum” on our way to the calmer gathering area in the Capitol Rotunda.

There I saw a wonderful example of the humanness and togetherness I believe we all desire, and I referenced earlier in summarizing the need to abandon the unproductive rancor. Shortly after Congressman Walz and I arrived in the Capitol Rotunda, he did an interview with MinnPost then Congressmen Emmer, Nolan and Paulson (three of our other MN Representatives) all arrived and gathered with us. I witnessed this bipartisan group of Congressman genuinely enjoying one another’s company and lightly razzing one another. Of course I couldn’t help but notice there were a number of cameras rapidly taking pictures of the five of us. I can’t wait to see the caption under that photo when it identifies each of the four Congressmen by their names, and concludes with “and an unidentified guest.”

About 11:30 p.m. I finally arrived back at my hotel room, 16 hours after having left it in the morning.  I returned the next morning to the Congressman’s Office where I had one last tour of the U.S. Capitol provided by a couple of Congressman Walz’s staff. From there it was back to the hotel, a couple of conference calls and tasks to take care of via the wonder of technology and then begin my travel back home to Greater Mankato.

It’s really quite special to be able to experience firsthand the State of the Union Address, and all that goes along with it. I cannot express enough my humble appreciation to Congressman Tim Walz and his staff for inviting me and extending such graciousness to me during my time with them. It is our regional community, our collaboration, our positive performance as a region and continued drive to better our marketplace for which the Congressman is so proud, and I am very fortunate and blessed to be able to be the face representing such.



This article was authored by Jonathan Zierdt, president & CEO of Greater Mankato Growth, Inc.

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