President Biden awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, to 17 Americans. The recipients represent diverse accomplishments across a variety of fields. Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values or security of the United States.
Americans at their best, Biden said during the July 7 White House ceremony, “ensure the idea of America, the cause of freedom shines like the sun to light up the future of the world … That’s what we see in the extraordinary group of Americans up here on the stage that I have the honor to recognize today with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian award.”
Three medals were awarded posthumously.
Julieta García was the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president, leading the University of Texas at Brownsville. She was named one of Time magazine’s best college presidents, and has dedicated her career to serving students from the Southwest border region.
Steve Jobs (died 2011) was the co-founder, chief executive officer and chairman of Apple Incorporated, chief executive officer of Pixar and held a leading role at The Walt Disney Company. His vision, imagination and creativity led to inventions that changed the way the world communicates, transforming the computer, music, film and wireless industries.
Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history, with a combined total of 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. In addition, Biles has advocated for athletes’ mental health and safety, children in the foster care system and victims of sexual assault.
Women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion who advocates for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQI+ rights.
Sandra Lindsay is a New York critical-care nurse who served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. She was the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials and is an advocate for vaccines and mental health for health care workers.
Sister Simone Campbell is a member of the Sisters of Social Service and former executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is an advocate for economic justice, immigration reform and health care policy.
Father Alexander Karloutsos is the former vicar general of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. As a priest, he has provided counsel to several U.S. presidents and received the highest honor given to married clergy by the Orthodox Christian Church.
Fred Gray was among the first Black members of the Alabama State legislature after Reconstruction. As an attorney, he represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr., who called him “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”
Khizr Khan is a Gold Star father and founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center. He is a prominent advocate for the rule of law and religious freedom and served on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Diane Nash is a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who organized some of the most important civil rights campaigns of the 20th century. Nash worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr., who described her as the “driving spirit in the nonviolent assault on segregation at lunch counters.”
Raúl Yzaguirre is a civil rights advocate who served as chief executive officer and president of National Council of La Raza for 30 years. He also served as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Barack Obama.
Former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords was the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate, later serving in the U.S. Congress. A survivor of gun violence, she co-founded Giffords, a nonprofit organization dedicated to gun violence prevention.
John McCain (died 2018) was awarded a Purple Heart with one gold star for his service in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. He also represented Arizona for decades in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. He was the Republican nominee for president in 2008.
Alan Simpson was a U.S. senator from Wyoming for 18 years. During his public service, he has been a advocate for campaign finance reform, responsible governance and marriage equality.
Richard Trumka (died 2021) was president of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO union for more than a decade. Throughout his career, he was an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice.
Brigadier General Wilma Vaught is one of the most decorated women in the history of the U.S. military, breaking gender barriers as she rose through the ranks. When she retired in 1985, she was one of only seven female generals in the U.S. armed forces.
Actor Denzel Washington has won two Academy Awards, a Tony Award, two Golden Globes, and the 2016 Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also served as national spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for over 25 years.