Biden awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to ‘extraordinary group’ of 17, including Simone Biles and Gabby Giffords

An Olympic gymnast, a nun and a priest entered the East Room of the White House on Thursday along with 13 other Americans, including a former Republican senator and one of the women. most decorated in the history of the United States military, to host the nation’s tallest civilian. honor – Presidential Medal of Freedom – from President Joe Biden.

Medal, awarded at the discretion of the president “for a particularly meritorious contribution to the national security or interests of the United States, world peace, or other important cultural or private endeavours, ” was established by an executive order signed by President John F Kennedy shortly before his assassination in 1963.

Mr. Biden noted that the United States celebrated its “independence” just three days ago, and said the country was “always advancing in the creative process,” and was a place of “possibility”.

“We who do what we can to ensure that the idea of ​​America, a freedom that shines like the sun, lights up the future of the world. It is the soul of our people. That’s who we are as Americans,” the president said, adding that the qualities he spoke of can be seen in the “extraordinary group of Americans” he recognized with the award. the most honor that can be bestowed upon an American civilian.

The 17 recipients selected by Mr. Biden include Simone Biles, the most beautiful female gymnast in US history, US women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe, US Representative to become gun safety activist , Gabrielle Giffords, former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson, actor Denzel Washington, retired Air Force Brigadier General Wilma Vaught, civil rights activist Diane Nash, civil rights attorney Fred Gray, college executive community Julieta Garcia, Greek Orthodox priest, Father Alexander Karloutsos, founder of the “Nins on the Bus” campaign, Sister Simone Campbell, lawyer and civil rights activist Khizr Khan, former Head of the National Council Join La Raza, Raúl Yzaguirre, and Sandra Lindsey, the American nurse who was the first to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in late 2020. Mr. Washington, the Academy Award-winning actor, did not attend due to Covid-19 diagnosis.

Regarding Ms. Biles, Mr. Biden said she demonstrated “unparalleled strength and determination, grace and daring” in her gymnastics competitions. He also called her a “forerunner and role model,” noting that at 25, she was the youngest person to ever receive the Medal of Freedom.

“When she stands on the podium, what we see is sheer bravery, dissolving personal pain [into] a greater purpose to stand up and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,” he added.

Speaking of Mr. Grey, the 91-year-old civil rights attorney, Mr. Biden called him “the most important civil rights attorney in our history” and commented that he was a civil rights pioneer like John Lewis, Rosa Parks and the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr called when they needed “a lawyer for their fight for freedom”.

“Fred’s legal and strategic insight, segregation of schools and guaranteeing the right to vote,” Biden said, noting that Mr. Gray is still practicing law at “91 years old,” Biden said. age”.

“He still believes in what is best in America,” he said.

Mr. Biden also later presented three awards to Emerson Collective founder Laurenne Powell Jobs on behalf of her late husband, Apple founder Steve Jobs, to Richard Trumka Jr on behalf of his father, AFL-CIO boss. late Richard Trumka, and UN World Food Program Ambassador Cindy McCain, who received the medal on behalf of her late husband, Arizona Senator John McCain.

Regarding the late senator, the president recounted the story of how he first met the former Vietnam POW and future Republican presidential candidate when he was a military aide assigned to the liaison mission. with the United States Senate.

Turning to Mrs. McCain, he recalled how the young Army officer was serving him and a group of senators when they stopped in Hawaii while touring Asia in the “late 1970s.”

“Cindy, I think you were there on vacation. And you’re talking to my wife, Jill, and John keeps looking at her and talking about her, so Jill and I did something a little pretentious. We guarantee that they [were] introduce [to] each other,” he said, drawing laughter and applause after he added: “He [John McCain] still owe me.”

“It was the best thing we ever did for John,” he said.

After hanging medals around each recipient’s neck as an army aide read out their award statement, Mr. Biden gestured for the trophies to be assembled.

“This is America,” he said.

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