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Who did US President Joe Biden give the Medal of Freedom to?

President Biden presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ most prestigious civilian honour, to 17 recipients on Thursday.

Update:
President Biden presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ most prestigious civilian honour, to 17 recipients on Thursday.
SAUL LOEBGetty

Sports stars Simone Biles and Megan Rapinoe were among those honoured in Washington, DC on Thursday, as President Joe Biden awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 17 recipients in a ceremony at the White House.

Considered the US’ highest civilian honour, the Medal of Freedom is presented to “individuals who have made an exemplary contribution to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors”, according to the White House. It was first awarded in 1963, having been established by President John F. Kennedy.

Biden tells Biles: I don’t know if you have room for another medal!

At 25, Biles became the youngest living person ever to receive the Medal of Freedom. Addressing the gymnast, who won four golds at the Rio Olympics in 2016, Biden said: “Today, she adds to her medal count of 32 - I don’t know if you’re going to find room.”

In addition to making a major impact as an athlete, Biles has become a prominent advocate for mental health, after withdrawing from events at the Tokyo Games last year because she was not in the right psychological state to compete. She has also worked to support victims of sexual assault. In 2018, the Texan announced that she was abused by Larry Nassar, who has been convicted of molesting hundreds of women and girls while serving as USA Gymnastics’ team doctor.

Rapino the first soccer player to receive Medal of Freedom

Rapinoe, a winner of two soccer World Cups and one Olympic gold with the US women’s national team, is the first player in her sport to be given the Medal of Freedom. The 37-year-old has also been a prominent voice in the battle for LGBTQ+ rights and racial justice. “Beyond the World Cup titles and Olympic medals, Megan is a champion for an essential American truth: that everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect,” Biden said.

Rapinoe, who was named FIFA’s The Best Women’s Player in 2019, has also worked hard to stand up for gender pay equality. “Men are so often paid and compensated on the potential that they show, not necessarily what they’ve done,” she told NPR in 2020. “And women are so often paid on what they’ve actually done.” In May, US Soccer announced equal pay for the members of its women’s and men’s national teams.

President Biden places the Presidential Medal of Freedom around Rapinoe's neck during Thursday's ceremony at the White House.
Full screen
President Biden places the Presidential Medal of Freedom around Rapinoe's neck during Thursday's ceremony at the White House.KEVIN LAMARQUEREUTERS

McCain, Jobs given award posthumously

Also among the recipients of the Medal of Freedom was Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington, who was unable to attend the ceremony after testing positive for covid-19. Former US senator and presidential candidate John McCain was honoured posthumously, as was Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Presidential Medal of Freedom: full list of winners

  • Simone Biles - gymnast and advocate for mental health, children in foster care and victims of sexual assault
  • Sister Simone Campbell - Roman Catholic religious sister, lawyer and social justice activist
  • Julieta García - former president of the University of Texas at Brownsville
  • Gabrielle Giffords - former Arizona state senator and US congresswoman, advocate for gun violence prevention
  • Fred Gray - civil rights attorney and one of the first black members of the Alabama state senate
  • Steve Jobs (posthumous) - co-founder and former chief executive of tech giant Apple
  • Father Alexander Karloutsos - former Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  • Khizr Khan - Gold Star father and founder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center
  • Sandra Lindsay - critical care nurse who was the first American to receive a covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials
  • John McCain (posthumous) - decorated Vietnam War veteran who went on to be a US congressman and senator, and ran for president in 2008
  • Diane Nash - founding member of the civil rights group the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
  • Megan Rapinoe - World Cup-winning soccer player and advocate for social justice
  • Alan Simpson - former Wyoming state senator who supported issues such as campaign finance reform and marriage equality
  • Richard Trumka (posthumous) - former president of the AFL-CIO, the US’ federation of unions
  • Wilma Vaught - one of the US’ military’s most decorated women. One of only seven female generals in the country when she retired in 1985
  • Denzel Washington - two-time Oscar-winning Hollywood actor and long-time national spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America
  • Raúl Yzaguirre - civil rights advocate and former US ambassador to the Dominican Republic

Watch the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in full:

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