Washington Recognizing the good deeds of 13 compassionate Americans, President Barack Obama said Thursday that he hopes their work helping the poor, the illiterate, veterans, service members and others will “inspire us to put ourselves in another person’s shoes.”
For their service, totaling decades in some cases in communities stretching from Alaska to Florida, each of the 13 received the 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal from Obama during a ceremony in the White House East Room. The medal is the nation’s second-highest civilian honor.
One woman was honored posthumously for speaking out against domestic abuse in the Indian-American community. Another woman whose story of suffering as her hospitalized partner died alone encouraged Obama to grant full visitation rights to gay couples also was recognized. In the tragic loss of their children, other honorees saw opportunities to help victims of terrorism and mass violence and to teach women how to fight back when attacked.
Roger Kemp of Leawood, Kan., started a program called TAKE after his daughter, Ali, a 19-year-old college freshman, was killed in 2002. Kemp, who believes his daughter might still be alive if she knew how to defend herself, began The Ali Kemp Defense Education Foundation to train women to fight off attackers. More than 48,000 women have taken his classes, he said after the ceremony.
Kemp said he was overwhelmed by the presidential recognition.
“It’s a very nice acknowledgement of what we’re doing but we’ll continue what we’re doing just like we always have,” he said in a telephone interview. “This isn’t the culmination of anything we’re doing.”
Obama said Kemp and the other medal recipients were “chosen not for the work that they do, but for the example that they set.”
“We don’t always get to choose the challenges that we face,” Obama added. “But how we respond is entirely up to us.”
Obama opened this year’s nominating process to the public, hoping to recognize ordinary citizens and local heroes. Nearly 6,000 submissions flooded into the White House, which needed nearly four months to whittle them down to the 13 individuals honored Thursday, he said.
The president alluded to the difficult economic times challenging the country and said it’s easy for people to say they have too many problems of their own to deal with before they can think about helping someone else in need. He said the medal recipients’ stories are an inspiration.
“I hope they inspire us to put ourselves in another person’s shoes,” the president said.