Tyler Burt walked through an underground tunnel on Capital Hill before entering the House Chamber where he would sit among hundreds of Congress members, Tony Bennett and President Barack Obama.
Burt, a senior at Lacey Township High School, was selected to attend the State of the Union address on Tuesday night with Congressman Jon Runyan.
“It was cool,” he said.
He arrived with his mother in Washington D.C. Monday night to enjoy a day of sightseeing on Tuesday, visiting the Holocaust Museum and other landmarks before arriving at Capital Hill.
Burt described Capital Hill as “organized,” proceeding through a metal detector and then to an assigned seat. Sitting close by was Tony Bennett, one of Nancy Pelosi’s guests.
Sitting in the gallery, Burt noticed the gavel on the front desk in the house chambers, realizing the reality that he would be experiencing the State of the Union address firsthand.
“The first line drew me in,” he said.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, fellow Americans, 51 years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this chamber that the Constitution makes us not rivals for power, but partners for progress. It is my task to report the state of the union. To improve it is the task of us all. Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home. (President Barack Obama, 2013 State of the Union)
“Our troops are coming home,” Burt said of a war that transpired when he was just a young boy. “It was history in the making. It was a really cool thing to hear.”
Other topics that interested Burt were college loans and interest rates, as he’ll be entering college in September.
“I never really considered myself interested in politics before,” Burt said, adding that he always intended to major in Communications or Business. “This definitely leaves me more interested.”
Burt also had the opportunity to sit with Runyan prior to the State of the Union.
“We just got to know each other,” Burt said. “We talked about what I was doing in school. I was very appreciative to him for inviting me to be his guest.”
Each member of Congress is given one ticket for a guest to attend the State of the Union. This is the second year Runyan has invited a student as his guest. Last year, Toms River student Brittney Emery attended.
Runyan described Burt as an “exceptional student,” who he was “pleased” could partake in the “historic night.”
“So many of Ocean County’s residents were affected by Hurricane Sandy and Tyler and his family were not spared from the storm,” he said. “Despite this adversity, Tyler has remained a strong student and humanitarian.”
Burt serves as the Student Government Association’s President, a member of the National Honor Society, editor of the Yearbook and a Heroes and Cool Kids mentor. He is also active on the district’s Technology Leadership Committee, the Random Drug Testing Committee and is the student representative to the Board of Education.
The school district was “thrilled” that Burt attended the State of the Union, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Vanessa Clark said.
“As the current Student Government Association President at Lacey Township High School, Tyler was an easy selection for this honor,” she said. “His contributions to both school and the community extend far beyond the classroom.”
He spent the day before the State of the Union organizing his second blood drive for the Red Cross.
Since Hurricane Sandy struck, he served as the chairperson for two events — the Provide for the Pride telethon and the recent turkey dinner held at the high school for first responders and those displaced.
“Being at the Union is the best memory,” he said of the experience. “All the other things I did in Washington, I can do again if I wanted to. I doubt I’ll have the chance to go back to hear the State of the Union.”