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First lady holds virtual reception for guests not at speech

In this image from video provided by The White House, first lady Jill Biden waves to her virtual guests on Wednesday, April 28, 2021, ahead of the joint session of Congress and President Joe Biden's speech in Washington.   Guests watching virtually will include, Javier Quiroz Castro, Maria-Isabel Ballivian, Tatiana Washington, Stella Keating, and Theron Rutyna. (White House via AP)
In this image from video provided by The White House, first lady Jill Biden waves to her virtual guests on Wednesday, April 28, 2021, ahead of the joint session of Congress and President Joe Biden's speech in Washington. Guests watching virtually will include, Javier Quiroz Castro, Maria-Isabel Ballivian, Tatiana Washington, Stella Keating, and Theron Rutyna. (White House via AP)

WASHINGTON – Jill Biden held a virtual reception Wednesday for guests who ordinarily would have joined the first lady in her box to watch President Joe Biden's prime-time address to Congress.

Guests are barred from the House chamber this year due to COVID-19.

So the first lady used technology to help amplify policies Biden will discuss during his first address to a joint session of Congress. It's become tradition for presidents to look up at the first lady's box in the House chamber and give shout-outs to special guests seated with her.

But since that won't happen this year, Jill Biden opted for a virtual reception with five guests who personify speech themes — and she opened the event to the public.

She said the president wakes up every morning “with a sense of urgency” because people like her guests are “counting on him for real solutions.”

“Every day when he heads down to the Oval Office or a meeting with his advisers, he takes you with him,” she said. “Everything he does is for you.”

The guests included Javier Quiroz Castro, an undocumented immigrant brought to the U.S. as a toddler; Maria-Isabel Ballivian, an early childhood educator from Annandale, Virginia; Tatiana Washington, a gun violence prevention advocate from Milwaukee; Stella Keating, a 16-year-old transgender high school student who recently testified before the U.S. Senate; and Theron Rutyna, information technology director for the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Castro, a registered nurse, participates in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was created to shield immigrants like him from being deported. He said he was brought over from Mexico at age 3 and is doing his part by treating COVID-19 patients at a hospital in Houston.