President Obama Presents the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medals

President Obama Presents the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medals


(applause) The President:
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the White House. This is one of my
favorite events. We are here to recognize the
winners of the Citizens Medal, one of the highest honors
a civilian can receive. This is the second year the
nomination process has been open to the public, and I notice
that once again the women outnumber the men. (laughter) I’m beginning to
see a pattern here. You know, on Sunday, I helped
dedicate the National Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. And this afternoon, as I’m
spending time with these extraordinary people, I’m
reminded of the fact that during the last speech
that Dr. King ever gave, he retold the story
of the Good Samaritan. And most of you know the story. We know it begins with a man
lying injured on a road. And Dr. King said that the
first people who saw him asked themselves, “If I
stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” So they made excuses
for not stopping. They said the man was
faking his injury, or it wasn’t their problem. But according to Dr. King,
the Good Samaritan reversed the question. “If I do not stop to help this
man, what will happen to him?” The 13 Americans that we honor
today have all faced in their own ways the moment that Dr.
King described — that Good Samaritan moment when you see a
neighbor in need and you have to ask yourself the question. They come from different
backgrounds and they’ve devoted their lives to different causes,
but they are united by the choice that they’ve made. They could have made
excuses to do nothing. Instead, they chose to help. For many of them, a lifelong
mission began with a small act of kindness. In 1987, a single mom and her
child — her children — moved in across the street
from Ida Martin. Ida saw their
refrigerator was empty, except for a bottle of water,
so she bought them groceries. And I guess once she got
started, she couldn’t stop. (laughter) So last year, the organization
she founded answered nearly 22,000 requests for aid. Then there’s Milly Bloomquist,
from Penn Yan, New York. And for decades, she has
personified the phrase, “above and beyond.” At her 90th birthday party, one
speaker said that Penn Yan has its own special system
for handling emergencies. “If you’re out of
food, call Milly. If your heat has
gone out, call Milly. If you can’t pay your
electricity bill, call Milly. If you need a winter
coat, call Milly.” The right choice is
rarely the easy one. And for some of those
we honor here today, the choice to help was
especially hard because it came in the wake of tragedy. Steve and Liz Alderman lost
their son Peter on 9/11. Roger Kemp’s daughter, Ali, was
murdered nearly a decade ago. Janice Langbehn was denied the
right to visit her partner, Lisa, as she lay
dying in the hospital. As a father and husband, I can’t
begin to imagine the grief that they must have felt in that
moment — their anger and their sense that the
world was not fair. But they refused to let
that anger define them. They each became, in Janice’s
words, an “accidental activist.” And thanks to their work, there
are parents and partners who will never have to go through
what they went through. Now, I’m happy to say that there
was a pretty stiff competition for these medals. Citizens from all walks of
life submitted nearly 6,000 nominations online, and it
took us four months to select the winners. In the end, these 13 individuals
were chosen not just for the work they do, but for the
example that they set. Over the past year, we’ve
been reminded time and again that our lives can be altered
by events beyond our control. A tornado or a hurricane
can devastate a community. An earthquake halfway around the
world can threaten businesses here at home. An economic crisis that begins
in one corner of the housing market can spread to
leave millions of Americans out of work. So we don’t always get to choose
the challenges that we face. But how we respond
is entirely up to us. We are each on that
Good Samaritan road, the road that Dr. King spoke
of more than 40 years ago. We can see that there are
people who need our help. And while we come from
different backgrounds, we all face the same, simple
question: Will we help them, or will we not? In some ways, in
these difficult times, it’s easier than
ever to walk on by. We can tell ourselves: “I’ve
got enough problems of my own.” “I can’t make a big
enough difference.” “If my neighbors
are less fortunate, maybe it’s their fault.” But as Americans,
that’s not who we are. Because while, yes, we are
a nation of individuals, we’re also a community. I am my brother’s keeper.
I am my sister’s keeper. That’s a creed we all share. So this afternoon, I am proud
to share the stage with these extraordinary citizens. I also know that for our
government to truly honor them, we have to do more
than hand out medals. We have to follow their example. And that won’t always be easy. As individuals, as
communities, and as a country, we all face the temptation
to find excuses not to help. In these decisive moments, then,
we need to choose between doing something and doing nothing. And I hope we will remember the
stories of these extraordinary men and women as we
make that choice. I hope they inspire us to
put ourselves in another person’s shoes. And I hope that years from now,
when they retell the story of our time, they will
say that we, too, lent a hand to our
neighbor in need. I should just point out that a
few people — like Molly — when I said we could not be prouder
of what they’ve accomplished, bristled a little bit and
said, “I’m not done yet.” (laughter) So these guys are still out
there making a difference. And they’ll be right there
with us if we end up doing the right thing. All right? So congratulations to all of the
winners of the Citizens Medal. I’ve got some outstanding
military aides here, and one of them is going to read
the citations, one at a time, and then I’ll present a medal
to each of the honorees. (applause) Military Aide:
The Presidential Citizens
Medal recipients: Stephen and Elizabeth Alderman: (applause) When Stephen and Elizabeth
Alderman lost their youngest child, Peter, on
September 11, 2001, they resolved to make
his legacy one of peace. They established a foundation
in Peter’s name to mend the emotional wounds of
terrorism and mass violence. Together they have trained
health workers around the world and provided trauma treatment
to the people of post-conflict nations, giving a face
to American compassion. The United States honors Stephen
and Elizabeth Alderman for their work to replace hatred
with hope and healing. (applause) Clarence Lee Alexander: (applause) A dedicated patriot
and conservationist, Clarence Lee Alexander
has helped lead the charge in protecting the
Yukon River Watershed. In addition to working
to save our waterways, he has been instrumental in
saving lives through the Council of Athabascan
Tribal Governments, which provides health care to
some of the most remote villages in North America. He exemplifies the difference
one person can make in preserving our natural resources
and cherished traditions for the next generation of Americans. For his work to protect our
precious national treasures, the United States honors
Clarence Lee Alexander. (applause) Camilla Bloomquist: (applause) Camilla Bloomquist’s mission
to alleviate hunger in her community began more
than 40 years ago, when she helped start a
breakfast program at a local elementary school. Since then, she has founded
Food for the Needy to provide assistance to the
less fortunate, and Christmas for the Needy
to supply families with food, gifts, toys, and coats
during the holiday season. She has been a life-sustaining
and legendary force in her community, and her efforts
embody the enduring American spirit of generosity. The United States honors Milly
Bloomquist for her extraordinary dedication to taking on
poverty in our nation. (applause) Dr. Judith Broder: (applause) After Dr. Judith Broder attended
a play produced and performed by active duty Marines, she left
the theatre with a new calling. Moved by the realistic
portrayals of the traumas of war, she founded The Soldiers
Project to help service members and their families address
the overwhelming effects of service-related
mental health issues. Today, Dr. Broder’s work
supports the well-being of our nation’s heroes and ensures they
have access to important mental health services. For answering the call to honor
our troops and their families, the United States honors
Dr. Judith Broder. (applause) John Keaveney: (applause) After serving our
country in Vietnam, John Keaveney faced
setbacks that affect too many American veterans. With the help of a Department
of Veterans Affairs program, he overcame addiction
and homelessness, turned away from crime, and
committed himself to providing a support system for
others returning from war. He founded New Directions,
and since 1992, has devoted himself to lifting
up the lives of thousands of veterans in Los Angeles County. The United States honors John
Keaveney for helping America fulfill its promise to serve
our veterans as well as they have served us. (applause) Roger Kemp: (applause) Roger Kemp lived every
father’s worst nightmare when his daughter, Ali,
was taken at a young age. Through immeasurable
pain and grief, Roger devoted his energy to
building a safer world for future generations. His foundation has provided
women of all ages with valuable self-defense training, and his
billboard campaign to post the faces of wanted criminals
has led to multiple arrests, including the conviction
of Ali’s killer. The United States honors Roger
Kemp for his unwavering efforts to ensure the safety
of his fellow citizens. (applause) Janice Langbehn: (applause) Janice Langbehn
transformed her own profound loss into a resounding call
for compassion and equality. When the woman she
loved, Lisa Pond, suddenly suffered
a brain aneurysm, Janice and her children were
denied the right to stand beside her in her final moments. Determined to spare others
from similar injustice, Janice spoke out and helped
ensure that same-sex couples can support and comfort each
other through some of life’s toughest trials. The United States honors Janice
Langbehn for advancing America’s promise of equality for all. (applause) Ida Martin: (applause) When Ida Martin realized
the needs of working families and senior citizens in
her community were not being met, she took matters
into her own hands. Out of her garage, she founded
Bluffton Self Help to provide aid to community members in
urgent need of food, clothing, and short-term assistance. Over 20 years later, she
continues to be guided by her devotion to helping those
who desire to help themselves, and her organization
remains a vital resource for those in need. For her remarkable efforts on
behalf of those less fortunate, the United States
honors Ida Martin. (applause) Dr. Margaret Martin: (applause) Believing in the notion that
every child should have the chance to learn and grow
through the power of music, Dr. Margaret Martin
founded Harmony Project. For 10 years, she has provided
free instruments and music lessons, and built neighborhood
youth orchestras for some of the most underserved
areas of Los Angeles. The United States honors Dr.
Margaret Martin for shining a light on the tremendous
talents and potential of young Americans and for empowering
our children to reach for a brighter tomorrow. (applause) Michelle McIntyre-Brewer: (applause) The wife of a soldier
and mother of two, Michelle McIntyre-Brewer
represents the best of our country. As an advocate for
military families, she supports our men and women
in uniform through numerous organizations, including
Soldier’s List, which she founded in 2002 to
send packages to thousands of deployed troops. Despite the many challenges
she has faced in her own life, Michelle remains focused on
her mission to improve the lives of others. For ensuring we uphold our
obligation to those who defend our freedoms, the United States
honors Michelle McIntyre-Brewer. (applause) Roberto Perez: (applause) For more than four decades,
Roberto Perez has dedicated his time and passion to bringing
the gift of literacy to communities around the world. Through his leadership
of Alfalit International, he has helped provide basic
education opportunities to underserved youth and
adults in 23 countries on three continents. From the barrios of Miami to
the villages of Africa and the pueblos of South America, he
has guided a force of more than 6,000 volunteers in delivering
independence through education. For his caring spirit and
dedication to serving others, the United States
honors Roberto Perez. (applause) Sujata and Nirmala Emani, accepting on behalf of
their mother, Vijaya Emani: (applause) Breaking long-held taboos,
Vijaya Emani lent her voice to protect Indian-American
women from domestic violence. Taken from us far too soon, she
was a trailblazer who shared her personal story to help
other battered women overcome abusive relationships. With boundless energy and an
insatiable drive to serve her community, she threw herself
into numerous causes, from supporting single
parents to honoring India’s cultural heritage. The United States honors Vijaya
Emani for her many contributions to the people of
Cleveland and our nation. (applause) The President:
What a remarkable
group of Americans. I want to thank all of you
for joining us here today. All the friends and family
who are here to celebrate our Citizens Medal winners, because
I think that — not to speak for them, but I suspect they’d say
that they couldn’t have done what they did without the
incredible support of all the people who are here. The colleagues and the loved
ones who submitted nominations online — I’m sure
they’re appreciative. And obviously you made a
pretty convincing case. I think our honorees recognize
that our work is not yet done. And so I just want to repeat, I
hope that their incredible work ends up setting an
example for all of us, both in public service
and in our daily lives. And I know that some folks today
who are here also represent the Corporation for National
and Community Service. Every day, you help Americans
make their country a better place, and I want to thank all
of you for your hard work. So, with that, we’ve
got, my understanding is, some pretty good food here — (laughter) — maybe even a little music
— as we celebrate these extraordinary individuals. Please give them one more
big round of applause. (applause)

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