By Kara Thompson,
MDDC Intern

On Thursday, July 7, President Biden presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 17 Americans in a formal ceremony at the White House.

“We strive for we the people doing what we can to ensure the idea of America,” said Biden. “The call of freedom shines like the sun to light up the future of the world. That’s the soul of our nation. That’s who we are as Americans. And that’s what we see in this extraordinary, extraordinary group of Americans up here on this stage.”

The Presidential Medal of Freedom began in July 1945, when President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order that established the Medal of Freedom as a way to recognize civilians during WWII for their service to the country.

President John F. Kennedy would sign another executive order in 1963 that would re-establish the Medal of Freedom, as well as expand it to include recipients for cultural achievements.

Today, the medal is awarded to “individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors,” and is the highest civilian honor.

Recipients are chosen by the president of the United States, with help from an advisory group created in 1957 called the Distinguished Civilian Service Awards Board. Most honorees are American citizens, though individuals from other countries are eligible and have sometimes received the medal.

This year’s recipients include Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and actor, producer and director Denzel Washington.

Biles has 32 medals combined from World Championships and the Olympics, and has been a leading advocate for the mental health and safety of athletes, children in foster care, and sexual assault victims. She is the most decorated Olympic gymnast in the country’s history and the youngest recipient of the Medal of Freedom.

Biden spoke highly of all of the recipients, including Washington, who missed the ceremony due to testing positive for COVID-19.

Biden said that something special would very done for the critically acclaimed thespian.

Washington is the 2016 recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement award, and for over 25 years has served as the national spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. He also has won two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, and a Tony award. He was not able to attend the ceremony due to testing positive for covid, but will be meeting with Biden at a later date to receive his medal.

President Joe Biden awards the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Fred Gray, a prominent civil rights attorney who represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr., who called Gray “the chief counsel for the protest movement,” at the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 7, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The other recipients this year are Sister Simone Campbell, Julieta García, Gabrielle Giffords, Fred Gray, Father Alexander Karloutsos, Khizer Khan, Sandra Lindsey, Diane Nash, Megan Rapinoe, Alan Simpson, Wilma Vaught and Raúl Yzaguirre. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Senator John McCain and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will all receive posthumous Medals of Freedom, and family members are accepting the award on their behalf.

“This is America,” Biden said of the stage full of recipients once they all had received their medals. The ceremony was followed by a reception for honorees.

Other noteworthy recipients from years past include Muhammad Ali, Jesse Jackson, Aretha Franklin and Sideny Poitier.

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