December 2016

President Obama Awards Presidential Medals of Freedom

Ellen DeGeneres with President Barack ObamaEllen DeGeneres with President Barack Obama

Ellen DeGeneres with President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to actress, comedian, and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres at a ceremony held at the White House.

On November 22, 2016, President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 21 people. It is the United States’ highest honor for a civilian, or a person who is not in the military. The award is given to people who the President thinks have helped make the United States a better place. People typically receive the medal because they have made praiseworthy contributions to American culture, the security or national interests of the United States, or other public or private causes.

The 21 recipients included athletes, entertainers, mathematicians, scientists, an architect, an artist, activists, and philanthropists. While some, like Michael Jordan and Ellen DeGeneres, are well known to most Americans, others are not as widely recognized.

One recipient was Eduardo Padrón. Padrón is an economist and educator. He has been the president of Miami Dade College in Florida since 1995. During his time as president, the college has grown from a two-year community college to a four-year college that serves more than 165,000 students. Miami Dade College continues to serve many students from low-income families and students who are the first in their families to attend college. With Padrón as its leader, Miami Dade College has become a model for affordable higher education. Padrón has become a national voice for making college accessible for as many people as possible.

Two of the awards were given posthumously. That means they were given to people who had already died. One of those people was Elouise Cobell. Cobell was a member the Blackfeet tribe and a cofounder of Blackfeet National Bank, now known as Native American Bank. It’s the only national bank owned by Native Americans. It helps promote economic development in Native American communities. Another important accomplishment Cobell is remembered for is that she led a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior. She sued because officials from that department were not properly managing funds that were meant for Native Americans. After 15 years, the U.S. government agreed to make a fund of almost $3 1/2 billion dollars to end the lawsuit.

At the ceremony, President Obama gave a speech that told why he chose the honorees for the medal. He explained that the ceremony was to “celebrate extraordinary Americans who have lifted our spirits, strengthened our union, pushed us toward progress.” As a military aide read about each recipient, President Obama gave each one the medal. He concluded the remarks by saying that each person also had a personal impact on him. As President Obama’s term ends in January, these will be the last Presidential Medals of Freedom he will award to people.

Image credit: ©Andrew Harnik/AP Images
Question 1
How many people did President Obama choose to award his last Presidential Medals of Freedom?

Question 2
Who has been the president of Miami Dade College in Florida since 1995?

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