President Obama’s Freedom Medals Restore Hope In Mourning Country

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Margo Williams On Tuesday, November 22, in the White House East Room, President Obama presented twenty-one recipients with the United States’ highest civilian honor and ceremonially recognized their outstanding and praiseworthy service. President Truman established this Presidential Freedom Medal in 1945 to recognize notable service in war. In 1963, President Kennedy reintroduced it as an honor for distinguished civilian service in peacetime. Similarly, by expressing his gratitude to civilians that he feels have, and will continue, to take part in the fight for social justice, President Barack Obama has acknowledged those that he believes represent his particular vision for the United States. President Obama has bestowed this medal upon more than 114 individuals, more than any other American president in history. The most recent class of recipients represent many of the ideals that Obama has promoted during his time in office, including advocacy on behalf of the LGBT, Native American, and Muslim communities. While more than half of the most recent class of recipients consists of artists, actors, and musicians, it is also comprised of computer engineers, famous architects, philanthropists, as well as those that the president has called “rabble rousers.” This year’s recipients, among others, include creator of SNL Lorne Michaels, comedian/TV show host Ellen DeGeneres, actor Robert De Niro, actor Tom Hanks, singer Bruce Springsteen, former basketball player Michael Jordan, former basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and founder of Microsoft Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates. Because President Obama awarded the medal to a separate class of recipients only two months ago, he has surprised many by choosing to bestow yet another, final class, after the 2016 presidential election. During the ceremony, in a not-so-subtle dig at Mr. Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again,” President Obama said, “It’s useful, when you think about this incredible collection of people, to realize that this is what makes us the greatest nation on Earth. Not because of our differences, but because, in our difference, we find something common to share. And what a glorious thing that is. What a great gift that is to America.” In addition, many believe that the outcome of this election has influenced his decision to take this opportunity to encourage civilian involvement in the fight toward greater tolerance in the United States. During the ceremony, President Obama also touched on the role that each individual American plays. “The Presidential Medal of Freedom is a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better. From scientists, philanthropists, and public servants, to activists, athletes, and artists, these 21 individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way.” Obama’s sentiments are not only directed towards the country, but every individual community within. As a Latin community, I urge us to respond to President Obama’s initiative and to continue to make efforts, whether in this community or others in our lives, to mirror the actions of these Presidential Freedom Medal recipients. For those who were emotional about the outcome of the presidential election, it is vital that we do not internalize Mr. Trump’s election as a regress of tolerance in our country. Now is the time to echo and advance the advocacy that is demonstrated in the recipients mentioned above and to ensure that we turn our feelings into action. ]]>