President Obama today awarded 18 Americans with the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation's second-highest civilian honor.
The recipients included the six teachers who were killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the founders of nonprofits and advocacy organizations, and civic leaders. Mr. Obama called them "some of our nation's finest citizens."
"These folks participate. They get involved. They have a point of view," he said. "That's what it means to be a citizen in the United States of America."
The award, established in 1969, recognizes Americans who have performed exceptional deeds but may not have received national attention for it. The 18 recipients were chosen from thousands of people nominated by the public.
Mr. Obama praised each of the recipients, noting that Adam Burke, an Iraq combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, "more than earned the right to just focus on himself" after returning from combat. Instead, in 2009 he opened "Veterans Farm," a 19-acre, handicap-accessible farm to help veterans earn a living and find healing in the land.
The late Jeanne Manford, who died just last month, co-founded Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in 1972 after her son was beaten up during a gay rights demonstration. In that time, "there was a lot of hate, a lot of vitriol towards gays and lesbians," Mr. Obama said, praising Manford's actions.
Mr. Obama became visibly emotional when talking about the Sandy Hook teachers, saying the six women "gave all they had for the most innocent and helpless among us."
The full list of recipients is available here.