Harrington’s Gustafson goes to Washington

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Samantha Gustafson visits with U.S. Rep. John Carney in his Washington office prior to being Rep. Carney’s guest at the State of the Union Address. (Submitted photos/Office of John C. Carney Jr.)

DOVER — Not everybody gets to witness history in the making so when the opportunity to do so presented itself, Samantha Gustafson made the most of it.

The Harrington mom of two was a guest of U.S. Rep. John Carney Jr., D-Del., at Tuesday’s St ate of the Union address and on Wednesday still bubbled with excitement as she described her 24-hour adventure.

“Amazing,” she said more than once.

Rep. Carney announced a week ago Ms. Gustafson would attend President Obama’s final State of the Union address to Congress and the nation.

A fourth-grade teacher at W. Reily Brown Elementary School in Dover, Ms. Gustafson became an advocate for cancer prevention and early detection after losing her husband to melanoma. Brett Gustafson, a Harrington farmer, was 28 when he died in December 2013.

Ms. Gustafson’s Tuesday started with a drive to Wilmington where she caught an afternoon train bound for

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Harrington’s Samantha Gustafson shakes hands with President Obama after the State of the Union Address in Washington Tuesday night.

Washington, D.C. A member of Rep. Carney’s staff picked her up and drove her to a hotel to freshen up before the big night.

At 5:30 p.m. she and the staffer joined the congressman at his office in the Longworth House Office Building before heading to a pre-address reception and dinner held by former Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“I met so many people,” Ms. Gustafson said, still with a note of wonder in her voice as she drove home from the train station Wednesday.

Many people are quick to have a negative view of politicians, she said, but added it was “heartwarming” to see how they really do want to make a difference in lives.

The reception was packed with people, but the array of food at the dinner may have been wasted on the excited 29-year-old.

“There was anything you could want, but I didn’t eat too much because I was so nervous,” she said.

Nerves or not, the delectable desserts were a different matter, especially a “chocolate mousse to die for!”

The evening was “wonderful,” she said. “It was a life-changing experience.

“I’ve always believed that one person can make a difference,” said Ms. Gustafson, whose book “The Prayer of a Single Mom” was released in December. “I’ve read it. I teach it.”

Tuesday night she was able to see it in action, she said, referring to the number of people attending as guests because of their community work.

“To see so many people there demonstrating how individuals can make a difference, to meet people who are working in their communities to make a difference is humbling,” Ms. Gustafson said.

“It was an amazing opportunity to talk to people who make a difference.”

Ms. Gustafson did more than talk to guests.

“I got to shake the president’s hand after the speech,” she said, “We were in the hall afterward and he walked by.”

However, she was disappointed to not get the chance to meet Vice President Joe Biden, especially in light of President Obama naming Delaware’s favorite son to head an initiative to find the cure for cancer.

Their schedules didn’t mesh.

Ever optimistic, Ms. Gustafson hopes she will have the opportunity in the future to help.

“I was most impressed with that part of Obama’s speech. It pushes me to be more active,” she said.

“Hopefully, I can be used in the future.

“It doesn’t matter the party,” she added. The fight against cancer is bipartisan.

Before heading home to Delaware, she was treated to a private tour of the capitol Wednesday morning with Rep. Carney serving as guide.

“You can feel history in every room,” she said. “To witness it firsthand is astounding.”

Today, she’s back in the classroom, eager to share with her students her date with history.

And she knows a sure-fire way to keep their attention.

“I have pictures.”

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