On February 18, President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to President George H. W. Bush. President Bush joined fourteen artists, athletes, civil rights activists, humanitarians, and others in receiving the honor. President Obama said these medals are presented to those who have made contributions to society that speak to “who we are as a people.”
President Bush received some of the loudest applause as he was honored for having devoted nearly seventy of his eighty-six years to public service, starting when he joined the navy on his eighteenth birthday. He served as a congressman from Texas, U.N. ambassador, Republican Party chairman, U.S. envoy to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, two terms as vice president, and one term as the 41st president.
“His life is a testament that public service is a noble calling,” Obama said. “His humility and his decency reflect the very best of the American spirit. Those of you who know him, this is a gentleman.” Bush’s wife, Barbara, and their children listened from the front row.
President Bush continues his public service legacy by preparing future generations to enter careers in public service and international affairs at the school that bears his name, the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. Also recognized by President Obama were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, poet and author Maya Angelou, congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis, athletes Stan Musial and Bill Russell, cellist Yo Yo Ma, investor Warren Buffett, and artist Jasper Johns.