By Victoria Dolloff
Adding to his many honors and accolades, former U.S. President and Phi Beta Kappa member Bill Clinton will be receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year. On August 8, President Barack Obama named Clinton one of sixteen to receive this honor in 2013, marking the medal’s 50th year.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and honors men and women who, as President Obama puts it, “have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours.” More specifically, it celebrates those outstanding individuals who have successfully worked towards the common good and the collective interests of the United States. The medal commends acts towards security, cultural richness, and peace. Past recipients have included civil rights activists, philanthropists, artists, sports icons, and other culturally and socially influential figures. The awardees are selected by the president and then presented with their medals in a ceremony at the White House. In the past fifty years there have been over five hundred medalists acclaimed with this award, our nation’s highest honor given to civilians.
As one of this year’s recipients, Clinton will be recognized for his work as a public servant dedicated to improving and promoting global health, economy, and the environment. His public endeavors began at Georgetown University where he completed his undergraduate education in international affairs through the foreign service program. Georgetown is also where Clinton was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.
Continuing his education at Oxford, and later Yale, he studied government and law, setting him on the path to public office. Clinton served as Attorney General as well as Governor of the State of Arkansas, where he was known for his education reform and welfare reform. In 1993, at the age of forty-six, Clinton became one of the youngest presidents in U.S. history.
Under his administration the United States found economic stability and a time of overall domestic tranquility. As described in his White House biography, Clinton’s time in office saw a drop in crime rate, a rise in home ownership, and an attempt to toughen environmental legislation.
In recent years, Clinton has lead humanitarian efforts supporting various charities and developing his own organization called the William J. Clinton Foundation, which aids a variety of causes both in and outside of the United States. Initiatives of the Clinton Foundation include the Clinton Climate Initiative which aims at providing solutions to climate change, the Clinton Health Access Initiative for improving health systems worldwide, and the Clinton Foundation in Haiti to aid relief and improvement efforts after the earthquake of 2010.
Throughout his political career and following his presidency, Clinton has worked to improve lives all over the nation and all over the world. This kind of respect for human worth is at the heart of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and ultimately encompasses our nation’s founding belief in a self-evident and inalienable right to freedom. In addition to public recognition, the Medal of Freedom reminds us of the steps and the sacrifices put in to preserving liberty for all.
Victoria Dolloff is a senior at Fairfield University majoring in studio art. Fairfield University is home to the Zeta of Connecticut chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.
Photo courtesy of the William J. Clinton Foundation.