Simone Biles, 25, has become the youngest living recipient of the highest US civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Bile’s remarkable career has seen her become one of the most star-studded names in gymnastics. She is the most successful American gymnast of all time, with a total of 32 medals in Olympics and World Championships over the course of her career. Biles has also been an advocate for mental health and sexual assault survivors.
Biles is among the 17 honourees to have received the award from President Joe Biden. During the ceremony the President said: “When we see Biles compete, we see unmatched power and determination, grace and daring. A trailblazer and a role model, when she stands on the podium, we see what she is: absolute courage to turn personal pain into a greater purpose, to stand up and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
“Today she adds to her medal count of 32 - I don’t know if you’re going to find room.”
What is the Presidential Medal of Freedom?
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is America’s highest civilian honour and is bestowed by the President to an individual who has given an exemplary contribution to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavours.
It was established in 1963 by President John F Kennedy. Recipients are selected by the president, either on the president’s own initiative or based on recommendations.
Biden himself received this honour in 2017, when then - President Obama surprised his outgoing vice president with the medal. Obama described Biden as a “ lion of American history.”
Who were the other recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom?
US soccer player Megan Rapinoe was the second athlete to receive an award. Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medallist and has lifted the Women’s World Cup on two occasions. She is the current captain of OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. Throughout her career, she has been an advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice and LGBTQ+ rights.
“Beyond the World Cup titles and the Olympic medals, Megan is a champion for an essential American truth that everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect,” Biden said as he honoured Rapinoe, who has become the first soccer player to receive the award.
Here is the full list of people to receive the award:
- Simone Biles - Olympic gymnast and advocate for mental health and sexual assault survivors
- Sister Simone Campbell - Catholic social justice advocate
- Julieta Garcia - the former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville and the first Latin women to become a college President
- Gabrielle Giffords - former member of congress who became a gun control advocate after being injured in a mass shooting
- Fred Gray - civil rights attorney who represented Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King
- Steve Jobs (Posthumous recipient) - founder of Apple who died in 2011
- Father Alexander Karloutsos - former Vicar General of the Greek Orthdox Archdiocese of America who helped provide spiritual counsel to several US presidents
- Khizr Khan - constitutional rights advocate and gold star parent
- Sandra Lindsay- A New York nurse who was the first American to receive a Covid-19 vaccine
- John McCain (posthumous recipient) - former US senator from Arizona, 2008 Republican nominee for president and a prisoner during the Vietnam War who died in 2018
- Diane Nash - civil rights activist and founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordianting Committee
- Megan Rapinoe - Olympian, US women’s World Cup winner, and advocate for gender equity and the LGBTQ community
- Alan Simpson - US senator for Wyoming between 1979 and 1997
- Richard Trumka (posthumous recipient) - former labour activist and president of the AFL- CIO who died in 2021
- Wilma Vaught - Air force veteran who was the first woman to deploy with a bomber unit and the first woman promoted to Brigradier General in the comptroller career field
- Denzel Washington - two-time Oscar- winning actor
- Raul Yzaguirre - civil rights advocate and the former US ambassador to the Dominican Republic