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Atrion’s Hebert Hears Obama Take Different Approach in Last State of Union

President and CEO of IT integrator says president spoke directly to American people in address, which he attended as congressman’s guest.

Gallery 3, Row B, Seat 63.

That’s where Atrion president and CEO Tim Hebert sat in the U.S. Capitol when President Barack Obama gave his final State of the Union address Tuesday night—and it’s an experience he’ll never forget.

“I’ve done a lot of cool things in my life,” says Hebert, who was a guest of U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin for Obama’s address. “I got to see the inner workings of our political system from the inside. That’s so hard to put into words.”

Hebert, who returned to his office in Warwick, R.I., after an early-morning flight on Wednesday, says he didn’t get to do a lot of sightseeing during his trip to D.C., but he was able to attend a CompTIA event focused on cybersecurity on Monday before turning his attention to the main event Tuesday.

He met Langevin in his Cannon House office before heading off with his host to a reception that included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. During his short stay in Washington, Hebert met about 25 representatives from around the country, all of whom praised Langevin for his work that focuses heavily on workforce development and cybersecurity initiatives.

Those are areas where Hebert too has become well-known around Rhode Island and he’s hosted Langevin multiple times at Atrion‘s headquarters, talking to him about the company’s state-certified apprentice program, among other topics.

As expected, Hebert, who says he’s “not a very political person,” was wearing a big smile before heading to the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon:

Hebert arrived at the Capitol at about 4 p.m. and had to pass through three levels of security before getting to his seat in the balcony for the State of the Union. There’s a strict policy against electronic devices in the chamber, so Hebert was “out of touch” from about 8:20 p.m. to about 11 p.m., he says.

Langevin didn’t give Hebert too much time to get ready for his trip to Washington, calling him last week on his cell phone and using a number that showed up as “No ID” on Hebert’s phone.

“I almost pressed decline but figured I should just get whatever it was over with,” says Hebert. “When he asked me if I wanted to be his guest, in my head I said, ‘hell yeah,’ but I was a little more professional in my actual response to him.”

Hebert, who watches most State of the Union addresses, heard Obama speak with a heavy emphasis on the future and technology, saying he was “happy with the way the speech flowed.” He heard allusions to workforce development “at a much higher level” when Obama talked about the need to invest in the U.S. and hints about cybersecurity when the president talked about how the connected world brings about both great and bad things.

As is customary during any State of the Union, Hebert didn’t stay seated for most of Obama’s speech.

“There were about 20 points where I felt compelled to stand,” he says. Those included words about veterans, the focus on curing cancer and Obama highlighting some of the country’s accomplishments in his seven years at the helm, including the reduction of unemployment rate.

“I felt the message was there and I loved the tone of the message,” says Hebert. “It was interesting watching how the whole thing happened. Usually in the State of the Union, the president is speaking to Congress. In this one, he was speaking directly to the people. We were the audience. That’s the first time I remember that.”

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