On Wednesday, President Barack Obama named 21 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
The medal is 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.
President Obama said,
“The Presidential Medal of Freedom is not just our nation’s highest civilian honor – it’s a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better. From scientists, philanthropists, and public servants to activists, athletes, and artists, these 21 individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way.”
The list of recipients has some obviously deserving mentions such as NBA Hall of Famer and renowned author, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who has been an outspoken advocate of civil justice for decades only increasing his efforts later in life. Also on the list is Bill and Melinda Gates who, through their foundation which they established in 2000, have provided more than 36 billion dollars in grants focusing on improving people’s health and giving impoverished people around the globe.
A less known name on the list is Richard Garwin, a polymath physicist who earned his Ph.D. at just 21 years of age, and who has subsequently made pioneering contributions to U.S. defense and intelligence technologies, low-temperature and nuclear physics, detection of gravitational radiation, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer systems, laser printing, and nuclear arms control and nonproliferation, among many other achievements.
There are other recipients which may appear puzzling to some, particularly some of the Hollywood celebrities whose connections or contributions to “the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” may be dubious at best.
Perhaps most notably in this category is Michael Jordan, who has had virtually no involvement politically, socially, or charitably — short of the recent contribution which he made in relation to tensions with police after significant pressure. Even the press release from the White House lists only on-court accomplishments. To many, Jordan appears an odd choice when considering the contributions and accomplishments of others on the list.