President Obama Presents the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medals

President Obama Presents the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medals


The President:
Well, it is a pleasure to
welcome some of our nation’s finest citizens here
to the people’s house. And let me be the first to
congratulate each of you and your family members for the
receipt of the highest honor a civilian can receive
— the Citizens Medal. We host a lot of events at the
White House but I have to admit this is one of my favorites,
because it’s a moment when, as a people, we get to recognize
some extraordinary men and women who have gone above and beyond
for their country and for their fellow citizens —
often without fanfare; often with not a
lot of attention; very rarely for any profit. You do it because it’s
the right thing to do, because you want to give back. And today, we honor you. We celebrate you. And, most of all, we have
a chance to say thank you. Because all of us are what
the rest of us aspire to be. In America, we have the benefit
of living in this big and diverse nation. We’re home to 315 million people
who come from every background, who worship every faith, who
hold every single point of view. But what binds us together, what
unites us is a single sacred word: citizen. It’s a word that, as I said in
my State of the Union Address, doesn’t just describe our
nationality or our legal status, the fact that we
hold a passport. It defines our way our life. It captures our belief in
something bigger than ourselves — our willingness to accept
certain obligations to one another, and to embrace the idea
that we’re all in this together; that out of many, we are one. It’s the thing that Tocqueville
noticed about America when he first came to visit —
these folks participate, they get involved, they
have a point of view; they don’t just wait for
somebody else to do something, they go out there and do it, and
they join and they become part of groups and they
mobilize and they organize. That’s who we are,
that’s in our DNA. That’s what it means to be a
citizen of the United States of America. We’ve all got busy lives. We’ve got bills to pay. We’ve got kids to carpool,
errands to get done. And in the midst of
all the running around, it would be easy — and
even understandable — for folks to just
focus on themselves, to worry about our own lives, to
look down the street and see a neighbor in need and say,
“I’d like to help but I’ve got “problems of my own.” To look across town at a
community that’s in despair and say, “That’s just too big a
challenge for us to be able “to take on.” That’s not who we are. That’s not what we do. That’s not what
built this country. In this country, we look
out for one another. We get each other’s backs,
especially in times of hardship or challenge. It’s part of the reason why
applications to AmeriCorps are at an all-time high. That’s why volunteering in
America is at the highest level it’s been in years. And I know that makes
Harris proud to hear. Harris Wofford has devoted
his entire life to creating opportunities for
Americans to serve. And the reason it’s such a
privilege for me to share the stage with him and all the
others who are participating here today, is because you’ve
taken commitment to a whole new level. Every day, you’re out
there righting wrongs. Healing hurts. Changing lives. And when Janice Jackson was
hit by a car at the age of 24, she was told by her doctors that
the only thing she would ever move again were her shoulders. After suffering an
injury like that, nobody would have faulted Janice
for just focusing on herself. But as she recovered, and
she regained her strength, she resolved to give some of
that strength to others in need. Janice said that
“from a wheelchair, I decided to devote my life to
women with disabilities… “to tell them that even
though you have limitations, “you also have abilities.” And every day through her
mentorship and through her advocacy, that’s exactly
what she’s doing. When Adam Burke
returned from Iraq, he had more than earned the
right to just focus on himself. He had served our
nation with honor; a recipient of the Purple Heart
for wounds he received while rescuing a comrade
from enemy fire. Because of that attack —
because of the shrapnel that tore through his head and his
legs — when Adam came home, he came home a wounded warrior,
suffering from a traumatic brain injury, Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder. But a few years later, Adam
found himself back on the family farm, and he noticed
that working the land was therapeutic. His coordination improved. He was able to put
aside his cane. So he decided to use farming to
help other veterans with similar injuries see similar benefits. And by starting Veterans Farm,
he’s doing that every day. When Jeanne Manford learned that
her son Morty had been badly beaten up at a gay
rights demonstration, nobody would have faulted
her for bringing him home, holding him close, just
focusing on her child. This was back in 1972. There was a lot of hate, a lot
of vitriol towards gays and lesbians and anyone
who supported them. But instead, she wrote to the
local newspaper and took to the streets with a simple message:
No matter who her son was — no matter who he loved
— she loved him, and wouldn’t put up with
this kind of nonsense. And in that simple act, she
inspired a movement and gave rise to a national organization
that has given so much support to parents and
families and friends, and helped to
change this country. We lost Jeanne last month,
but her legacy carries on, every day, in the countless
lives that she touched. And then when Dawn Hochsprung,
and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel
D’Avino, Anne Marie Murphy — when they showed up for work
at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14th of last year, they
expected a day like any other — doing what was right
for their kids; spent a chilly morning readying
classrooms and welcoming young students — they had no idea
that evil was about to strike. And when it did, they could have
taken shelter by themselves. They could have focused
on their own safety, on their own wellbeing. But they didn’t. They gave their lives to
protect the precious children in their care. They gave all they had for
the most innocent and helpless among us. And that’s what
we honor today — the courageous heart,
the selfless spirit, the inspiring actions of
extraordinary Americans, extraordinary citizens. We are a nation of
315 million people. Out of all these folks,
around 6,000 were nominated for this medal. And today, you’re the ones
receiving it not just for what you do, but for what
you represent — for the shining example that
you set every single day and the inspiration that you give
each of us as fellow citizens, including your President. So congratulations
to the recipients. And now, I would like
our military aide to read the citations. Military Aide:
The Presidential Citizens
Medal recipients: Dr. T. Berry Brazelton. (camera shutters clicking) (applause) As one of America’s most
respected voices on child development, Dr. Brazelton
has dedicated his life to transforming pediatric care. His pioneering work has given
generations of parents the chance to take control of their
children’s health from day one. Alongside his duties as a
researcher and educator, he fought to secure some of
the 20th century’s essential safeguards for families,
including guaranteed maternal leave. For his tireless advocacy on
behalf of families everywhere, the United States honors
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton. (applause) Adam D. Burke. (applause) During his ninth year
of service in the Army, Adam Burke was diagnosed with
traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder
after saving a comrade from a mortar blast in
Iraq’s Sunni Triangle. He received a Purple
Heart for his heroism. Unwilling to stop
serving his country, he turned his family
farm into Veterans Farm, a space for wounded warriors
to heal by working the land and finding stability
on friendly soil. The United States honors Adam
D. Burke for his extraordinary service to his country
and fellow members of the 9/11 Generation. (applause) Mary Jo Copeland. (applause) Driven by her faith and a fierce
commitment to her community, Mary Jo Copeland has spent more
than a quarter-century lifting up the underserved. Alongside her husband, she grew
Sharing and Caring Hands from a small storefront operation in
downtown Minneapolis into a charity that provides
thousands of men, women and children the chance
to live in health and dignity. Her unyielding vision for
stronger neighborhoods has inspired people nationwide, and
her compassion for the poor and the marginalized speaks to
the depth of the human spirit. The United States honors Mary
Jo Copeland for sparking hope in those who need it most. (applause) Michael Dorman. (applause) When Michael Dorman saw disabled
veterans struggling to secure the opportunities they had
given so much to preserve, he knew he had to act. A 20-year veteran
of the Coast Guard, he founded Military Missions
in Action to help veterans with disabilities live independently
and support those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder
and traumatic brain injury. His organization has completed
more than 100 home improvement projects across the state of
North Carolina and shipped thousands of care packages to
service members in the line of duty. The United States honors Michael
Dorman for his exceptional service to our Armed
Forces and our Nation. (applause) Maria Gomez. (applause) Born in Colombia and brought
up in Washington, D.C., Maria Gomez has dedicated her
life to providing high-quality health care to the
community that raised her. Guided by her vision, Mary’s
Center for Maternal and Child Care has delivered exceptional
outcomes to disadvantaged populations for more
than two decades. Her organization’s integrated
approach to medicine, education and social services
extends a lifeline to tens of thousands every year, giving
families across the D.C. region a chance at a brighter future. The United States honors Maria
Gomez for sharing her strength with the underserved. (applause) Pamela Green-Jackson. (applause) As Pamela Green-Jackson mourned
the loss of her only brother to obesity-related illness, she
vowed to honor his memory by saving others from
the same fate. The result, Youth
Becoming Healthy, has equipped young men and women
in Georgia schools with the knowledge and opportunity
they need to get a strong start in life. Pamela’s dedication to combating
childhood obesity reaffirms our belief that as a nation, we have
no higher calling than caring for our children. For putting our sons and
daughters on the path to better health, the United States
honors Pamela Green-Jackson. (applause) Janice Yvette Jackson. (applause) After Janice Jackson was struck
by an oncoming car when she was 24 years old, doctors told her
she would never be able to move her limbs again. Battling against the odds, she
regained control of her left arm and reached for the
promise of the years ahead. As a mentor, a counselor and
the founder of Women Embracing Abilities Now, she has drawn
from the depth of her experience to empower women with
disabilities and advocate passionately on their behalf. The United States honors Janice
Yvette Jackson for turning personal adversity into a
powerful force for change. (applause) (applause) Patience A. Lehrman. (applause) A first-generation
immigrant from Cameroon, Patience Lehrman embodies
what it means to be an American citizen. Recognizing that immigrants
have always made our country stronger, she has worked to
make America a land of greater opportunity for all
who call it home. Under her leadership, Project
SHINE has helped thousands of aging immigrants and refugees
build deeper ties to their communities by connecting
them with college students nationwide. The United States honors
Patience A. Lehrman for reaffirming the truth
inscribed on our nation’s seal: That out of
many, we are one. (applause) Accepting on behalf
of Jeanne Manford, her daughter Suzanne Swan. (applause) In an era when peaceful protests
were met with violence and coming out was a radical act,
Jeanne Manford knew she had to stand by her son, Morty. Side-by-side, they marched
proudly down the streets of New York on Stonewall’s anniversary,
calling upon other parents of gay and lesbian Americans to
show their children the same love and acceptance. Jeanne’s courage lives on in
progress she fought for and in PFLAG, the organization
she founded, which today claims more than
200,000 members and supporters in over 350 chapters. For insisting that equality
knows no bounds of sexual orientation or gender identity,
the United States honors Jeanne Manford. (applause) Billy Mills. (applause) As a boy growing up on South
Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Billy Mills rose
above adversity by dedicating himself to a dream. He realized the height of his
ambition at the 1964 Tokyo Games, where he ran what was
then the fastest 10,000 meters in Olympic history. Since then, Billy has spent 26
years lifting other young men and women toward their
aspirations through Running Strong for American
Indian Youth. His organization has championed
wellness and unlocked opportunity in Native American
communities across our country. The United States honors Billy
Mills for inspiring young people to find the best in themselves. (applause) Terry T. Shima. (applause) During World War II, Terry
Shima served in the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which
became the most decorated unit of its size in American history. Responsible for securing
the 442nd’s legacy, Terry ensured that returning
heroes received a welcome befitting their
service and sacrifice. As the Executive Director of
the Japanese American Veterans Association, he committed
himself to preserving the stories of servicemembers
who fought and bled overseas, even while many of their
families were relocated to internment camps at home. For strengthening the sacred
trust between America and its veterans, the United States
honors Terry T. Shima. (applause) Harris Wofford. (applause) Harris Wofford has spent
more than 50 years empowering ordinary citizens to make
extraordinary change. A friend to Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr., and an advisor to
President John F. Kennedy, Harris fought alongside
civil rights leaders to end segregation and advance
the march of justice. During his time at the White
House, with the Peace Corps, as a Senator, and leading the
Corporation for National and Community Service, he gave
generations of Americans the chance to serve their country. The United States honors Harris
Wofford for upholding national service as one of our
Nation’s highest causes. (applause) The Presidential Citizens Medal
is awarded to Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie
Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Soto
for dedicating themselves to their students and
to the community of Newtown, Connecticut. Some had been at Sandy Hook
Elementary School for only weeks; others were preparing to
retire after decades of service. All worked long past the school
bell to give the children in their care a future
worth their talents. On December 14, 2012,
unthinkable tragedy swept through Newtown, etching the
names of these six courageous women into the heart
of our nation forever. The United States honors Rachel
D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren
Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Soto for their
extraordinary commitment to the students of Sandy Hook
Elementary School. Accepting on behalf
of Rachel D’Avino — her mother, Mary D’Avino
and sister, Sarah D’Avino. (applause) Accepting on behalf
of Dawn Hochsprung — her daughter, Erica Lafferty,
and mother, Cheryl Lafferty. (applause) Accepting on behalf of
Anne Marie Murphy — her husband, Michael
Murphy, and daughters, Paige and Colleen Murphy. (applause) Accepting on behalf
of Lauren Rousseau — her parents, Terry
and Gilles Rousseau. (applause) Accepting on behalf
of Mary Sherlach — her husband, Bill
Sherlach, and daughters, Katy Sherlach and
Maura Schwartz. (applause) Accepting on behalf
of Victoria Soto — her parents, Donna
and Carlos Soto. (applause) The President:
Let me close by just saying
a few words of thanks — first of all, to Wendy and all
the people at the Corporation for National and
Community Service, thank you for all that you do
to make our communities and our country stronger. We’re very grateful. To those who nominated these
outstanding individuals — thank you for taking the
time to share their stories. The competition was stiff. And your words gave
life to their work. To all the family and friends
who are here celebrating with the winners, thank you for
the love and support that you provide to them
every single day, because they couldn’t do what
they do unless somebody had that love and support for them. I know the awardees would agree
that this honor belongs not just to themselves but to
everybody who supports them. And finally, to the winners
of this year’s Citizens Medal, we want to congratulate
you once again. A special note just to the
families who are here from Sandy Hook — we are so
blessed to be with you. I’ve gotten to know many of you
during the course of some very difficult weeks. And your courage and love for
each other and your communities shines through every single day. And we could not be more blessed
and grateful for your loved ones who gave everything they
had on behalf of our kids. On behalf of a grateful nation,
thanks to all of you for showing us what it means to be a citizen
of this country that we love. Hopefully, we will all draw
inspiration from this and remember why it is that we’re
lucky to be living in the greatest nation on Earth. Thank you all for coming
and enjoy the reception. (applause)

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