Gymnast Simone Biles, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and soccer star Megan Rapinoe were among the public figures in attendance at the White House to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Biden Thursday.
Last week, the White House issued a press release that announced the 17 recipients who would be presented with the “nation’s highest civilian honor.”
The honorees were selected for making “exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors,” the press release read.
The full list also included advocate Sister Simone Campbell, Julieta García, who was the former president of The University of Texas at Brownsville and first Hispanic woman to be named a college president, and Fred Gray, one of the first Black members of the Alabama State legislature since the Reconstruction era.
Former senator and war veteran John McCain and Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs were two of three posthumous honorees who were recognized at the ceremony. Cindy McCain teared up as she accepted the medal on behalf of her late husband, who died in 2018 from brain cancer. Laurene Powell, who was married to Jobs from 1991 until his death from pancreatic cancer in 2011, was in attendance to receive his medal.
Former congresswoman Giffords smiled and posed with a hand on her hip as she was honored for her political career and her work with gun violence prevention. Giffords served in the House of Representatives representing Arizona from 2006 to 2012. She left office a year after being shot in the head at an event in her home state and co-founded a non-profit organization that supports gun safety.
Before the prestigious event began, Rapinoe shared a close-up of her outfit on her Instagram story. A flower and the initials “BG” were etched into her lapel to show support for WNBA star Brittney Griner, who continues to be imprisoned in Russia after pleading guilty to drug charges. In addition to being an Olympic gold medalist and a Women’s World Cup champion, Rapinoe is also an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, gender pay equality and racial justice.
Biles beamed with excitement as Biden placed the medal around her neck during the ceremony. The four-time Olympic gold medalist uses her to platform to raise awareness about mental health and sexual assault.
“I’m so honored & thankful to be recognized as a recipient by President Biden for this prestigious award,” the 25-year-old superstar athlete wrote on Instagram next to a picture of her with the president. “I still have no words. I’m shocked!
Her fiancé, NFL player Jonathan Owens, cheered on Biles at the event and continued to celebrate her achievement on social media with an Instagram post of the couple posing together at the White House, and pointing out that Biles is the youngest person to ever receive the honor.
“You’re one of the strongest people (I) know and are so deserving, I’m so blessed to be able to experience this with you,” he gushed.
Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center Founder Khizr Khan, Father Alexander Karloutsos, nurse Sandra Lindsay, founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Diane Nash, former senator Alan Simpson, late president of the United Mine Workers Richard Trumka, Brigadier General Wilma Vaught and Raúl Yzaguirre were also bestowed with medals.
Although Denzel Washington was named as a recipient, he was not in attendance. TODAY confirmed that Washington had to miss the event after testing positive for COVID-19