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Hope and inspiration...and the real faces in the crowd

February 24, 2009 |  7:29 pm

US First Lady Michelle Obama

7 p.m.: And now the Skutnick Moment in the speech, named, as history buffs will recall, for Lenny Skutnick, the hero singled out by President Reagan during a State of the Union speech. (Skutnick leaped into the Potomac River after a plane crash and pulled a passenger to safety.)

Sitting with Michelle Obama are Leonard Abess -- a bank president from Miami -- who, President Obama says, "cashed out of his company, took a $60-million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him.  He didn't tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, 'I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old.  I didn't feel right getting the money myself.' "

(All we can think is: wow, we wish we worked for that guy!)

The president also notes a little South Carolina girl named Ty’Sheoma Bethea, in a lavender silk dress, who is hugged by the first lady when the president singles her out for praise.

The girl wrote to Congress to ask for help to repair her dilapidated school.

Obama continues: "She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, 'We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world.  We are not quitters.' "

That's pretty much the message of the evening. It's all about the optimism.

Next up: the Republican response by Bobby Jindal.

-- Robin Abcarian

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Photo credit: Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Images (Michelle Obama applauds as her husband addresses a joint session of Congress February 24, 2009).