WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — President Joe Biden celebrated 17 new recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in a ceremony at the White House Thursday.
The recipients included civil rights trail blazers, humanitarians and athletes: Olympian Simone Biles, social justice advocate Sister Simone Campbell, former University of Texas President Julieta Garcia, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, former Alabama state legislator Fred Gray, late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Greek Orthodox Father Alexander Karloutsos, Gold Star father and religious freedom advocate Khizr Khan, New York nurse Sandra Lindsay, late U.S. Sen. John McCain, civil rights advocate Diane Nash, Olympian and World Cup soccer champion Megan Rapinoe, former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, late AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, retired Brigadier General Wilma Vaught, actor Denzel Washington and civil rights advocate Raul Yzaguirre.
At 25, Biles is the youngest person to receive the Medal of Freedom. She is the most decorated Olympic gymnast ever.
“She adds to her medal count of 32. I don’t know where you’re going to find room,” Biden joked.
He praised her courage for speaking out against sexual assault within gymnastics, saying she “turned personal pain into greater purpose.”
Jobs and McCain received the award posthumously.
“What Steve left us is something special: technology with the capacity to improve our lives in ways that haven’t even yet been thought of,” Biden said.
He also praised McCain, a prisoner of war, longtime Republican senator and friend.
“We used to argue like hell on the Senate floor but then we’d go down and have lunch together,” Biden said. “I never stopped admiring John. I never said a negative thing about him in my life.”
Denzel Washington was absent from the ceremony after testing positive for COVID-19. The president said he would be honored later.
Including the 17 honored Thursday, only 631 Americans have ever received the award, including Biden himself. He said the new recipients reflect the country at its finest.