Simone Biles, Gabrielle Giffords, and 14 Others Receive Presidential Medals of Freedom From Biden

Sixteen Americans were honored by President Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Thursday. Among them were Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, soccer star Megan Rapinoe, and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Posthumously, both Senator John McCain and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs were honored.

Despite Denzel Washington’s absence from Thursday’s ceremony, President Biden promised to present the actor with an award soon.

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16 Honorees Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honour in the United States and is given for “significant societal, public, or private endeavours.”

“The Fourth of July week reminds us what brought us together long ago and still binds us, binds us at our best,” Mr. Biden said Thursday. “What we strive for — we the people, doing what we can to ensure the idea of America, the cause 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 — an extraordinary, extraordinary group of Americans up here on this stage that I have the honor to recognize today with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian award.” 

Simone Biles, Gabrielle Giffords Presidential Medals Biden
Simone Biles, Gabrielle Giffords Presidential Medals Biden

The president gave a speech in which he thanked each honoree in turn, beginning with Biles for her many contributions to the United States and the world.

“When we see her compete, we see unmatched, unmatched power and determination, grace and daring,” the president said. “A trailblazer and a role model, when she stands on the podium, we see what she is — absolute courage to turn personal pain into greater purpose, to stand up and speak for those who cannot stand for herself. Today, she adds to her medal count of 32 — how are you going to find room? — 32 Olympic and world championship medals.” 

The president also spoke highly of his former Senate colleague John McCain. Mr. Biden recalled meeting McCain for the first time when McCain was working as a military aide in the Senate and said he urged McCain to run for office. Mrs. McCain accepted the honour on her late husband’s behalf.

“We used to argue like hell on the Senate floor. But then we’d go down and have lunch together afterwards, as you remember,” Mr. Biden said. “We ran against each other, which I didn’t like, on tickets for the highest office in the land. I was a candidate for vice president, he was the candidate for president. I never stopped admiring John. Never said a negative thing about him in my life, because I knew his honor, his courage, and his commitment.”

Other government officials, including Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, were present on Thursday, in addition to Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff.

President John F. Kennedy started the award in the 1960s. As vice president, Mr. Biden accepted the award on behalf of former president Barack Obama in 2017.

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