President Barack Obama today named 15 recipients of the highest possible civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Included in this list was Irish American labor movement representative John J Sweeney and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland ,Jean Kennedy Smith.
The medal is awarded to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to security or national interests of the United States. This includes working towards peace, in cultural pursuits or significant public and private endeavors. The recipients will receive their medals at a ceremony in the White House in early 2011.
The president said “These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they've excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place. I look forward to awarding them this honor."
Jean Kennedy Smith set up Very Special Arts in 1974. The non-profit organization affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center promotes the artistic talent of children, youths and adults with disabilities. Also between 1993 and 1998 Jean served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and played a pivotal role in the Irish Peace Process.
John J. Sweeney is receiving this honor for his tireless work in the labor movement. John is the son of Irish immigrants and worked his way up the labor movement to be become the President of the Service Employees International Union. He built the union up to serve as a voice for the working people. From 1995 to 2009 he served as the President of the AFL-CIO, America’s Union Movement. He remains the President Emeritus of the group.
Others who will be recognized next spring by President Obama include former president George H. W. Bush, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Congressman John Lewis, John H. Adams, Maya Angelou, Warren Buffett, Jasper Johns, Gerda Weissmann Klein, Dr. Tom Little (posthumous), Yo-Yo Ma, Sylvia Mendez, Stan Musial and Bill Russell.