WASHINGTON - President Biden will present a Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — to 17 people at a White House ceremony next week, including Simone Biles, Denzel Washington, Gabrielle Giffords and Megan Rapinoe.
The president has also awarded posthumous medals to U.S. Sen. John McCain, who died in 2018, and Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, who died in 2011.
Biden will also recognize Sandra Lindsay, the New York City nurse who rolled up her sleeve on live television in December 2020 to receive the first COVID-19 vaccine dose that was pumped into an arm in the United States.
The honorees "have overcome significant obstacles to achieve impressive accomplishments in the arts and sciences, dedicated their lives to advocating for the most vulnerable among us, and acted with bravery to drive change in their communities, and across the world, while blazing trails for generations to come," the White House said.
The honor is reserved for people who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values or security of the United States, world peace or other significant societal public or private endeavors, the White House said.
Biden himself is a medal recipient. President Barack Obama honored Biden’s public service as a longtime U.S. senator and vice president by awarding him a Presidential Medal of Freedom in January 2017, a week before they left office.
Biles is the most decorated U.S. gymnast in history, winning 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. She is an outspoken advocate on issues that are very personal to her, including athletes’ mental health, children in foster care and sexual assault victims.
Lindsay became an advocate for COVID-19 vaccinations after receiving the first dose in the U.S.
McCain, who died of brain cancer in 2018, spent more than five years in captivity in Vietnam while serving in the U.S. Navy. He later represented Arizona in both houses of Congress and was the Republican presidential nominee in 2008. Biden said McCain was a "dear friend" and "a hero."
Washington is a double Oscar-winning actor, director and producer. He also has a Tony award, two Golden Globes and the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a longtime spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Giffords was shot in the head and gravely wounded during a January 2011 constituent event in Tucson, Arizona. She has since founded Giffords, an organization dedicated to ending gun violence.
Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women's World Cup soccer champion who captains the OL Reign in the National Women's Soccer League. She is a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQI+ rights who has appeared at Biden's White House.
The other 10 medal recipients are:
— Sister Simone Campbell. Campbell is a member of the Sister of Social Service and a former executive director of NETWRK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is an advocate for economic justice, overhauling the U.S. immigration system and health care policy.
— Julieta Garcia. A former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville, Garcia was the first Latina to become a college president, the White House said. She was named one of the nation’s best college presidents by Time magazine.
— Fred Gray. Gray was one of the first Black members of the Alabama Legislature after Reconstruction. He was a prominent civil rights attorney who represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr.
— Father Alexander Karloutsos. Karloutsos is the assistant to Archbishop Demetrios of America. The White House said Karloutsos has counseled several U.S. presidents.
— Khizr Khan. An immigrant from Pakistan, Khan's Army officer son was killed in Iraq. Khan gained national prominence, and became a target of Donald Trump's wrath, after speaking at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
— Diane Nash. A founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Nash organized some of the most important 20th century civil rights campaigns and worked with King.
— Alan Simpson. The retired U.S. senator from Wyoming served with Biden and has been a prominent advocate for campaign finance reform, responsible governance and marriage equality.
— Richard Trumka. Trumka had been president of the 12.5 million-member AFL-CIO for more than a decade at the time of his August 2021 death. He was a past president of the United Mine Workers.
— Wilma Vaught. A brigadier general, Vaught is one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history, breaking gender barriers as she has risen through the ranks. When Vaught retired in 1985, she was one of only seven female generals in the Armed Forces.
— Raúl Yzaguirre. A civil rights advocate, Yzaguirre was president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza for 30 years. He served as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic under Obama.