The 17 individuals will be the first people Biden will honor with the country’s highest civilian honor since taking office. Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Mr. Doug Emhoff also attended the ceremony at the White House.
“The week of the Fourth of July reminds us of what brought us together long ago, and still binds us – binds us at our best, what we strive for. We, the people, are doing what we can to ensure that the idea of America, the cause of freedom, shines like the sun to illuminate the future of the world,” Biden said in his opening remarks.
The medal will be “presented to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values or security of the United States, world peace or other significant civic, public or private endeavors,” according to the White House.
Megan Rapinoe, a member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, Olympic gold medalist and two-time women’s World Cup champion, will become the first female soccer player to receive the medal.
Gold Star father Khizr Khan, who was a member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Catholic social justice leader Sister Simone Campbell, the former NETWORK executive director who leads the “Nuns on the Bus” , a group of politically active nuns, will also receive the award.
The list of recipients also includes Fred Gray, one of the first black members of Alabama’s state legislature since Reconstruction and who represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP, and Martin Luther King as an attorney. It also features one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history, retired Brigadier General Wilma Vaught; an intensive care nurse who became the first American to receive a Covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials, Sandra Lindsay; and the first Hispanic woman to serve as university president, Dr. Julieta Garcia.
Lindsay told CNN’s Boris Sanchez on Thursday that she wanted to use her platform to encourage people to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
Her message to those who are still skeptical about getting the vaccine, she said, is: “Continue with your research. Reach out to people you trust. I’m still here, it’s been almost three years and I’ll keep pleading. So if you’re not protected yet, please go out and be protected.”
Other recipients include: civil rights activist Diane Nash, who worked with Martin Luther King and is a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Father Alexander Karloutsos, the former Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; civil rights attorney Raúl Yzaguirre, who served as CEO and chairman of La Raza’s National Council; former Republican Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming; and former AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who will receive the medal posthumously.
“President Biden has long said that America can be defined by one word: opportunity. These 17 Americans demonstrate the power of opportunity and embody the soul of the nation — hard work, perseverance and faith,” the White House said in a statement. †
Biden is himself a Medal of Freedom Honoree. Then-President Barack Obama surprised his Vice President with the award in 2017.
Maegan Vazquez of CNN contributed to this report.