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Arab American Donna Shalala Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom, Nation's Highest Civilian Award

posted on: Jun 20, 2008

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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.

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.

Shalala was born in Cleveland, Ohio to Lebanese immigrant parents.