Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who has been battling brain cancer, was named a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Thursday, the highest civilian honor awarded to accomplished private citizens and public servants.
In announcing the list of 16 honorees, President Barack Obama recognized their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive.
From reforming our public schools to strengthening civil rights laws and supporting working Americans, Senator Kennedy has dedicated his career to fighting for equal opportunity, fairness and justice for all Americans, a release from the White House said.
Kennedy added significant credibility to Obamas presidential campaign when he endorsed him in January 2008, over then-hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton. Obama has publicly praised Kennedys work on education and health care reform and in April signed into law a national service bill named the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.
Kennedy, 77, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in May 2008 and has largely been out of the public eye since January, when he was rushed to the emergency room following a seizure on Inauguration Day.
As a veteran player in the health care debate, Kennedy, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, recently penned a lengthy article in Newsweek in which he declared overhauling the nations health system the cause of my life.
I am profoundly grateful to President Obama for this extraordinary honor, Kennedy said in a statement. My life has been committed to the ideal of public service which President Kennedy wanted the Medal of Freedom to represent. To receive it from another President who prizes that same ideal of service and inspires so many to serve is a great privilege that moves me deeply.
Other notable recipients include the late Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day OConnor, tennis all-star Billie Jean King and Academy Award-winner Sidney Poitier.