Who I’m Bringing to the State of the Union

Each week our office gets hundreds of phone calls, letters, and emails from constituents on everything from the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act to Medicare premiums. A few months ago, one letter in particular caught my attention. It was a note from 11-year-old (who is now 12) Kyla Bursiek about firecrackers.

Kyla was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was a toddler and is sensitive to unexpected loud noises — like firecrackers. She was writing to see if there was any way there could be limits on when and where they’re used.

Far from merely writing in to put this issue on our radar, Kyla included signatures she had rounded up from supportive friends and classmates and promised more (though, as she noted, that might take some time since “I’m a kid, and I’m eleven, and I’m in school right now”).

Kyla’s latest effort involves lobbying Nintendo to add new options for its Wii characters, aka Miis. Kyla’s a big fan of Wii, but wishes they had a disabled character as one of the options to choose from (or “differently-abled” as Kyla likes to say).

I never noticed this before, but think it’s a great idea. So while she’s here, we’ll be meeting with the Entertainment Software Association — which Nintendo is a part of — to see if that’s feasible.

I couldn’t help but be inspired by Kyla’s civic engagement and optimism in the face of an adversity like cerebral palsy. Despite the challenges, she’s well on her way to making positive change in her community — identifying a challenge, proposing a solution, and then working hard to see her vision realized. I can’t think of a better way to reward her activism than with a front-row (well, not quite front-row, but at least inside the Chamber) seat at one of our nation’s most enduring traditions — the President’s annual State of the Union address.

My team and I are thrilled to welcome Kyla and her dad to DC and looking forward to President Obama’s speech tomorrow night. Kyla’s story reminds us of what a privilege it is to work in the United States Congress and to have the ability to make positive change on a national level. Let’s never forget that.