Ever since Buck O’Neil received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, I’ve got a warm spot in my heart for it. It was created by Harry Truman, as a kind of executive branch, civilian counterpart to the Congressional Medal of Honor, to honor those who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
Yes, the Presidential Medal of Freedom has taken a few hits over the last eight years, but what award hasn’t had its more dubious winners? (Tom Lehrer noted that political satire became obsolete when Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize.)
Last Thursday, Obama announced a new slate of recipients. Teddy Kennedy got a lot of the press, but the whole list is quite stunning (click through for internal links):
- Nancy Goodman Brinker is the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s leading breast cancer grassroots organization.
- Pedro José Greer, Jr. is the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs and Florida International University School of Medicine. He is also the founder of Camillus Health Concern, an agency that provides medical care to over 10,000 homeless and low-income patients each year in Miami.
- Stephen Hawking is an internationally-recognized theoretical physicist, and is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University.
- Jack Kemp was a U.S. Congressman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Republican Nominee for Vice President in 1996. He died in May, 2009.
- Sen. Edward Kennedy is one of the longest-serving and greatest Senators of all time. He has worked tirelessly for health care reform over the last five decades.
- Billie Jean King is known for winning the famous "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match, and championing gender equality issues not only in sports, but in all aspects of life.
- Rev. Joseph Lowery has been a leader of the civil rights movement since the 1950s, and co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. Martin Luther King.
- Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow is the last living Plains Indian war chief, and author of works on Native American history and culture who has served as an inspiration to young Native Americans across the country.
- Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official from a major city in the United States. He was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, and encouraged LGBT citizens to live their lives openly.
- Sandra Day O’Connor was a Supreme Court Justice from 1981 until her retirement in 2006. She was the first woman ever to sit on the Supreme Court, and has received numerous awards for her outstanding achievements.
- Sidney Poitier is an actor known for breaking racial barriers. He is the first African American to be nominated and win a Best Actor Academy Award.
- Chita Rivera is an actress, singer and dancer, who has broken barriers and inspired a generation of women. In 2002, she was the first Hispanic to receive the Kennedy Center Honor.
- Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Since 2002, she has been the President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative.
- Janet Davison Rowley, M.D., is the Blum Riese Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine, Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago. She discovered the first consistent chromosome translocation in a human cancer.
- Desmond Tutu is widely regarded as "South Africa’s moral conscience," and was a leading anti-apartheid activist in South Africa.
- Muhammad Yunus is a global leader in anti-poverty efforts, and pioneered the use of "micro-loans" to provide credit to poor individuals.
(PSA: Women, if you’ve put off that mammogram, it’s time.)
*raising a glass*
Give it up for those who live their lives with care for those around them!