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President Obama Honors 2011 Citizens Medal Recipients

Thirteen American citizens who exemplify service to their country were honored at the White House today
citizens medal ceremony

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Oct. 20, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Today, President Obama recognized the 13 recipients of the Presidential Citizens Medal, one of the highest honors a civilian can receive. The award is given to Americans who have "performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens." At a ceremony in the East Room, the President praised the honorees' commitment to service:

The 13 Americans that we honor today have all faced that … moment when you see a neighbor in need and you have to ask yourself the question. They come from different backgrounds and they’ve devoted their lives to different causes, but they are united by the choice that they’ve made. They could have made excuses for doing nothing. Instead, they chose to help.

This year’s winners truly included Americans from all walks of life. John Keaveney, a Scottish immigrant, served two tours in Vietnam before coming back to establish a home for homeless and disabled veterans with addiction and mental health problems. Janice Langbehn of Lacey, Washington went to court to fight for hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples after being denied the chance to say goodbye as her partner of 18 years lay dying in a hospital.

Dr. Michelle Martin, a Los Angeles resident, founded an organization that connects kids in underserved communities with instruments and music lessons after watching gang members stop to watch a young boy play his violin at the farmer’s market. Roberto Perez is an ordained Methodist pastor who counsels inmates and is president of a nonprofit organization that has taught more than 7 million people to read worldwide.

The 13 people chosen to receive this year’s medal were nominated by the public, and then carefully selected by the White House. Click here to learn more about the recipients and to watch a video showing their reactions to the news they’d been chosen. President Obama explained that the nomination process was not an easy one:

I’m happy to say that there was a pretty stiff competition for these medals. Citizens … submitted nearly 6,000 nominations online, and it took us four months to select the winners.  In the end, these 13 individuals were chosen not just for the work they do, but for the example that they set.

The honorees, their families, and the people who nominated them attended the ceremony this afternoon, followed by a reception in the State Dining Room.