College of William and Mary Chancellor Sandra Day O’Connor is one of this year’s recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.
O’Connor was the first female Supreme Court justice, serving on the highest court in the land between 1981 and 2006. She became the College’s 23rd chancellor in 2006.
The Medal of Freedom is awarded to those who have contributed to the national interests of the U.S., world peace or culture. The award is not limited to American citizens.
Fifteen others besides O’Connor were named as recipients yesterday. Other 2009 recipients include physicist Stephen Hawking, Senator Edward Kennedy, tennis player Billie Jean King, actor Sidney Poitier, former Irish President Mary Robinson, Native American historian Joe Medicine Crow and Anglican Archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu.
In addition, posthumous awards will go to gay rights activist Harvey Milk, who was murdered in San Francisco in 1978, and Republican congressman and 1996 vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, who passed away from cancer in May.
“These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. … Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way,” President Barack Obama said in a White House press release. “Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive.”
Obama will present the awards at a ceremony Aug. 12.