JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Nancy Dishner’s father took her to the U.S. House of Representatives Chamber when she was just 7 years old. Decades later, invited by Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, the Niswonger Foundation CEO returned to a nearby seat and saw President Joe Biden deliver the State of The Union speech Tuesday.
“I know that it’s an overused term, but it definitely was the experience of a lifetime,” Dishner told News Channel 11 Thursday.
Dishner was at the station to discuss the education-related foundation’s recent growth from serving mostly Tennessee’s First Congressional District to a statewide presence that is in line for about $10 million in state funding next year.
Dishner said Blackburn told her she chose her as her one allotted guest after meeting Niswonger Scholars in person and also becoming “aware of the work we’re doing with literally tens of thousands of school kids.
“Her words to me were, ‘I thought about who could spread the word about the importance of the American experience and what it is to be part of a democracy and to be able to see a democracy in action,'” Dishner said.
In a statement, Blackburn wrote that she was “delighted” to welcome Dishner as her special guest.
“Nancy’s dedicated leadership as CEO of the Niswonger Foundation continues to open doors of opportunity for students in every corner of the Volunteer State,” Blackburn wrote. “I appreciate her commitment to the next generation and her work to ensure students have the resources they need.”
Blackburn particularly asked Dishner to relate her experiences to the Niswonger Scholars. The select group of college students whose expenses are paid through the foundation commit to live back in Northeast Tennessee for at least a period of time after graduation. Scholars complete leadership institutes each summer and winter, and Dishner said that’s where she plans to dig in with them about the Washington experience.
“I try to hit important issues that I think are of value to them to learn about as they become the kind of citizens we want to return to Northeast Tennessee,” Dishner said.
Sitting in the chamber experiencing the annual event lived up to her expectations, Dishner said.
“I was sitting very close to where we were sitting at the age of 7. I remember that experience.
“To see our Supreme Court sitting in front of me, to see our president and vice president, to see our lawmakers, and to realize that that’s what it takes to make up the democracy in which we live … There was a tremendous amount of respect for this republic and what it means to be a citizen.”