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DeVry Grad Will Be State of the Union Guest

January 28, 2014

A DeVry University graduate will be among First Lady Michelle Obama’s special guests at this evening’s State of the Union address, the White House announced Tuesday.

Sabrina Simone Jenkins of Charleston, S.C., a single mother who worked full-time while graduating from college, was selected to sit in the House gallery with Mrs. Obama. The First Lady’s guests are often mentioned in the president’s speech and are selected to highlight key themes of the address.

The White House said Jenkins’ story illustrated perseverance and a determination to improve oneself. 

“After servicing in the Air Force,” according to a White House press release, Jenkins “took classes at DeVry University while working full time, graduating with a 3.7 GPA at the age of 42 – all while caring for ailing family members and becoming seriously ill herself.” She then earned a masters degree in human resources.

Jenkins now owes nearly $90,000 in student loan debt, “something that will only worsen” as she pays for her teenaged daughter to attend college, according to the information provided by the White House.

The president's advisors have said this year's speech will focus on “opportunity, action and optimism” and will reflect the administration’s desire to move forward unilaterally with executive actions the face of a gridlocked, divided Congress.

But few other details have been released, leaving it unclear what, if anything, Obama will say about higher education tonight. In his most recent addresses to Congress, Obama has warned colleges about rising tuition and pushed accreditation as a lever to slow the growth of college costs.  

Another guest of the First Lady will be 23-year-old Cristian Avila, a “DREAMer” and immigration reform activist from Phoenix, Ariz. Avila was brought to the United States illegally as a child and received temporary relief from deportation through the administration’s deferred action program.  

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Michael Stratford

Michael Stratford, Reporter, covers federal policy for Inside Higher Ed. He joined the publication in August 2013 after a stint covering the Arkansas state legislature for The Associated Press. He previously worked and interned at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine and The Chronicle of Higher Education. At The Chronicle, he wrote about federal policy and covered higher education issues in the 2012 elections. Michael grew up in Belmont, Mass. and graduated from Cornell University, where he was managing editor of The Cornell Daily Sun.

Follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/mstratford.

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