Friday, July 31, 2009

Presidential Medal of Freedom for Kennedy

Senator Edward M. Kennedy received another high honor yesterday, courtesy of President Obama.

The longtime Massachusetts senator was named one of 16 recipients of this year’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. It is awarded to individuals who “make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural, or other significant public or private endeavors,’’ the White House said, and “this year’s awardees were chosen for their work as agents of change.’’

Kennedy - who is battling brain cancer as Obama and Democrats in Congress try to push through the capstone of his 46-year Senate career, a healthcare overhaul - said he was “profoundly grateful’’ to Obama.

“My life has been committed to the ideal of public service, which President Kennedy wanted the Medal of Freedom to represent,’’ the senator said in a statement. “To receive it from another president who prizes that same ideal of service and inspires so many to serve is a great privilege that moves me deeply.’’

Kennedy’s award citation calls him “one of the greatest lawmakers - and leaders - of our time,’’ lauding his work on improving public schools, strengthening civil rights laws, and dedicating his career to “fighting for equal opportunity, fairness, and justice for all Americans.’’

“He has worked tirelessly to ensure that every American has access to quality and affordable healthcare, and has succeeded in doing so for countless children, seniors, and Americans with disabilities,’’ the citation says.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi congratulated Kennedy on behalf of Congress. “Few have accomplished more in a lifetime than Senator Kennedy has,’’ she said in a statement. “This award - the highest a civilian can receive - honors his steadfast commitment to the American ideal of justice.’’

Obama will present the medals, the first of his presidency, at a White House ceremony Aug. 12. Other recipients include Nobel laureate and physicist Stephen Hawking, former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the late congressman and housing secretary Jack Kemp, antiapartheid leader Desmond Tutu, tennis legend and activist Billie Jean King, civil rights leader Joseph Lowery, the late gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk, Race for the Cure founder Nancy Brinker, and actors Sidney Poitier and Chita Rivera.

“Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs,’’ Obama said in a statement.

“Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way. Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive.’’
© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.



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