President George W. Bush congratulates Donna E. Shalala after presenting her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom Thursday, June 19, 2008, during the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Wing at the White House. White House photo by Shealah Craighead.

Shalala receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

Calling her an “enthusiastic participant in life” and a leader whose efforts have helped more Americans “live lives of purpose and dignity,” President George Bush awarded University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala with the Presidential Medal of Freedom Thursday morning during a ceremony at the White House.
 
The nation’s highest civilian award, the medal is given annually and recognizes exceptional meritorious service to individuals who have contributed to national security, world peace, or cultural endeavors. It was established by President Truman in 1945 to honor notable service in the war, and reintroduced by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 to acknowledge distinguished peacetime civilian service.
 
“It’s a great honor. There’s no question,” Shalala said at a press conference last Friday on the UM campus where she discussed the prestigious honor. “It’s the greatest honor that a civilian can get in this country, so I take it with great humility, and all the people I’ve worked with over the years are as thrilled as I am.”
 
During Thursday’s medal ceremony, President Bush said that even at a young age, Shalala showed the characteristics of a leader, noting that after a tornado struck her home and neighborhood in Cleveland, a then 10-year-old Shalala stood in the middle of a road to help direct traffic. “Donna was always an enthusiastic participant in life,” Bush said.
 
In 2001, Shalala became the University’s fifth president. She served eight years as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, longer than any other person who held that position. In that capacity, “she developed a reputation for fairness and a willingness to hear both sides of an issue,” Bush said during Thursday’s White House ceremony.

Donna E. Shalala is applauded by fellow recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Thursday, June 19, 2008, as she is honored by President George W. Bush at ceremonies in the East Wing of the White House. White House photo by Shealah Craighead.

With Senator Bob Dole, she co-chaired the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, a role in which “she has worked to ensure that we provide the best possible care for America’s veterans, especially those who have borne the scars of battle,” Bush said.
 
“I came to know Donna in the course of the commission’s work,” he continued. “She believes deeply that our nation has no more important responsibility than to make sure that we provide our veterans with all the love and care and support they deserve.”

Five other distinguished individuals received the Medal of Freedom on Thursday: Benjamin Carson Sr., M.D., of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center; Anthony Fauci, M.D., of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; the late U.S. Representative Tom Lantos of California; Former Marine General and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace; and U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Laurence H. Silberman.

Watch a video clip of the ceremony: