Medal of Freedom
The 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom “honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place.” The Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients
The Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
View the gallery of the recipients of the 2010 Medal of Freedom and click on selected recipients to watch a video of their words of wisdom.
From his time as a decorated Navy pilot to his years in the White House as the 41st President of the United States, President George Herbert Walker Bush has led a life marked by a profound commitment to serving others. As President, he upheld the American value of liberty during a time of renewal and promise. As a private citizen, he has united Americans in times of crisis, lending his tireless efforts to men and women whose lives have been upended by disaster. Over the arc of his life, President Bush has served our nation as a tremendous force for good, and we proudly salute him for his unwavering devotion to our country and our world.
Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. She is the first woman and first East German to serve as Chancellor of a unified Germany, which this year marks its 20th anniversary. Her political career began when she joined the new Democratic Awakening party in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1990, as West and East Germany merged into one reunited country, her party joined with the Christian Democratic Union, and she was elected to the German parliament. She has been chairman of the CDU since April 2000 and was recently reelected to another term.
From his activism in the civil rights movement to his nearly 25 years in the House of Representatives, John R. Lewis has dedicated his life to shattering barriers and fighting injustice. The son of sharecroppers from Alabama, he rose with courage, fortitude and purpose to organize the first student sit-ins and the earliest freedom rides. The youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, a fearless advocate and a distinguished member of Congress, John Lewis has earned our lasting gratitude for a lifetime dedicated to the pursuit of equality and justice for all.
At a time when contaminated waterways and polluted air threatened too many of our communities, John H. Adams co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council to encourage responsible stewardship of our natural resources. A staunch defender of the wonders of our planet, he served as executive director and, later, as president of the NRDC, challenging Americans to live up to our responsibilities to leave something better to our children with an urgency matched by few others. John Adams’ decades-long commitment to safeguarding the Earth has left our air purer, our water cleaner and our planet healthier for generations to come.
Out of a youth marked by pain and injustice, Dr. Maya Angelou rose with an unbending determination to fight for civil rights and inspire every one of us to recognize and embrace the possibility and potential we each hold. With her soaring poetry, towering prose and mastery of a range of art forms, Dr. Angelou has spoken to the conscience of our nation. Her soul-stirring words have taught us how to reach across division and honor the beauty of our world.
As a world-renowned investor and philanthropist, Warren E. Buffett’s business acumen is matched only by his dedication to improving the lives of others. He is a co-founder of The Giving Pledge, an organization that encourages wealthy Americans to donate at least 50 percent of their wealth to philanthropic causes. Warren Buffett’s example of generosity and compassion has shown us the power of one individual’s determination and inspired countless women and men to help make our world a brighter place.
Bold and iconic, the work of Jasper Johns has left lasting impressions on countless Americans. With nontraditional materials and methods, he has explored themes of identity, perception, and patriotism. By asking us to reexamine the familiar, his work has sparked the minds of creative thinkers around the world. Jasper Johns’ innovative creations helped shape the pop, minimal and conceptual art movements, and the United States honors him for his profound influence on generations of artists.
Gerda Weissmann Klein’s life is a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit. A Holocaust survivor, she was separated from her parents and sent to a series of Nazi labor camps. In 1945, she was one of a few survivors among those forced to undergo a 350-mile death march to avoid the progress of liberating Allied forces. From tragedy to triumph, she and her husband proudly started the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation to promote tolerance, respect and empowerment of students throughout the world. By sharing her stories and encouraging others to see themselves in one another, Gerda Klein has helped to advance understanding among all people.
Dr. Thomas Emmett Little was an optometrist who devoted his life and skills to those in need. Starting in the 1970s, Dr. Little and his wife lived largely in Afghanistan in order to provide vision care to the people of that nation. Even as they dedicated their lives to healing others, Dr. Little and nine of his team members were murdered in Afghanistan in 2010. Our nation mourns the loss of these humanitarians who paid the ultimate price in pursuit of their ideals, and we look to Dr. Little’s example of generosity and goodwill so we can better know the meaning of sacrifice and the necessity of peace.
Recognized as one of the world’s greatest musicians, Yo-Yo Ma’s talents know no boundaries of genre or culture. Since performing at the White House for President Kennedy at the age of seven, he has recorded more than 75 albums, won more than a dozen Grammy awards and established himself as one of our nation’s most acclaimed and respected artists. His music has bound us together and captured our imagination, and the United States proudly honors this prolific cellist and ambassador for the arts.
Sylvia Mendez was thrust to the forefront of the civil rights movement when she was just a child. Denied entry to the Westminster School because of her Mexican heritage, she sought justice and her subsequent legal case, Mendez v. Westminster, effectively ended segregation as a matter of law in California. The arguments in that case catalyzed the desegregation of our schools and prevailed in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, forever changing our nation. Today, Sylvia Mendez continues to share her remarkable story and advocate for excellence and equality in classrooms across America.
Stanley F. Musial represents the best of American sports icons. His name is synonymous with the St. Louis Cardinals, the team on which he played for his entire 22-year career. A perennial all-star and three-time Most Valuable Player, he won accolades as a player and championships as a teammate. Nicknamed “Stan the Man” Musial, he played the game with unrivaled passion, and his humility and decency remain a model for all young Americans to this day.
Basketball was a different sport before William F. Russell donned a uniform. With unmatched skill, he led the Boston Celtics to an unparalleled string of titles and earned the distinction of being named the National Basketball Association’s Most Valuable Player five times. He broke down barriers on and off the court, becoming basketball’s first African American coach and serving as a passionate advocate for civil rights. Bill Russell can reflect with pride on helping change the culture of a sport and the course of our nation.
The eighth of nine children to Joseph and Rose Kennedy, Jean Kennedy Smith joined the family business of helping her fellow Americans in improving our world. In 1974, she founded Very Special Arts, a nonprofit organization that promotes the artistic talents of young people living with disabilities. On the international stage, Jean Kennedy Smith played a pivotal role in the peace process in Northern Ireland while serving as United States ambassador to Ireland. With intelligence, compassion, creativity and grace, Jean Kennedy Smith has contributed volumes to her family’s outstanding legacy of service to our country.
As a champion for the American worker, John J. Sweeney has strengthened our families, our economy and our country. The son of Irish immigrants, he worked his way up in the labor movement, serving as president of the Service Employees International Union and president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, all the while reaffirming our nation’s commitment to rewarding the enduring values of hard work and responsibility. The United States proudly honors John Sweeney for a lifetime of courageous service on behalf of working people.
President George H.W. Bush
There wasn't any single inspiration other than the concept that public service is a noble calling - worth doing and worth trying to succeed in."
Dr. Maya Angelou
Be proud, not haughty, but proud of what you’ve achieved. And see the future as your career, as your job. This is not a rehearsal. This is your life."
Warren E. Buffett
I was extremely lucky in that the two most important people to me in my life, my dad and my wife… they both extended to me unconditional love. And there’s no power on earth in my view like unconditional love."
Gerda Weissmann Klein
I tried in whichever way I could to give back to this beloved country, all that it has given me, fulfilling dreams I never even know how to dream."
My father always said 'I don’t know what you’re going to do when you grow up, but don’t do it if you can’t do it right. Be the best you can at whatever you do.'"
Jean Kennedy Smith
I think that Americans are outstanding in the way they contribute and volunteer and the way they do help each other. I’ve never seen a country like it and it’s something to be proud of."
Stanley F. Musial
It's a great honor receiving the President's Medal of Honor and it's the best gift I've ever received in my lifetime."
At any fork in the road, if you take the higher road it always leads, it may be difficult, but it leads to a better direction."
Congressman John R. Lewis
People must have the desire to get out there, to push and pull, and to never give up, to never get lost in a sea of despair, but to keep the faith."
What inspired me was that my parents fought for me when I was very young. What they did was they wanted me to know that I was an individual, that we’re all individuals, that we’re all human beings, and that we’re all connected together."
John J. Sweeney
Our success is really the success of workers. Whether they’re organized or unorganized, how do you improve their lives and what contributions can you make to all of that?"
John H. Adams
Stand up for nature, believe that nature is important. Whatever job you’re in - whether it’s law, science or business – make sure that you remember that nature is very important to protect."
Dr. Thomas Emmett Little
Even though we were passionate about what we were doing, eye care, ophthalmic care in Afghanistan, we really did feel it a privilege to be citizens of this country."