On May 29, 2012, President Barack Obama recognized 13 Americans, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the highest honor awarded to civilians in the United States. Established by President Kennedy in 1963, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is presented to those who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
When President Obama presented Albright with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he said:
"As the first woman to serve as America's top diplomat, Madeleine's courage and toughness helped bring peace to the Balkans and paved the way for progress in some of the most unstable corners of the world. And as an immigrant herself -- the granddaughter of Holocaust victims who fled her native Czechoslovakia as a child -- Madeleine brought a unique perspective to the job. This is one of my favorite stories. Once, at a naturalization ceremony, an Ethiopian man came up to her and said, 'Only in America can a refugee meet the Secretary of State.' And she replied, 'Only in America can a refugee become the Secretary of State'."
From 1997 to 2001, under President William J. Clinton, Albright served as the 64th U.S. Secretary of State, the first woman to hold that position. During her tenure, she worked to enlarge NATO and helped lead the Alliance's campaign against terror and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, pursued peace in the Middle East and Africa, sought to reduce the dangerous spread of nuclear weapons, and was a champion of democracy, human rights, and good governance across the globe. From 1993 to 1997, she was America's Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
See the full list of honorees here.
Editor's Note: This video appears courtesy of the White House and can be found on the The White House Blog.