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The White House: Remarks by the President During Medal of Freedom Event

August 13, 1999
Copyright © 1999 M2 COMMUNICATIONS, LTD. All Rights Reserved.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: President Kennedy once said that a nation reveals itself not only by the people it produces, but by the people it honors. Today, we honor men and women who represent the best of America with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Lloyd M. Bentsen
Edgar M. Bronfman Sr.
Evy Dubrow
Sister M. Isolina Ferre
Gerald R. Ford
Oliver White Hill,
Max Kampelman
Edgar Wayburn
(Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter received their medals in Atlanta.)

Our nation's founders believed, as do we, that freedom is a gift of God, not only to be defended, but to be used to improve the human condition, to deepen the reach of freedom, to widen the circle of opportunity, to strengthen the bonds of our national community.

By words and deeds, the Americans we honor today have done just that. And in honoring them, we honor also the values and principles of our nation's founding and our nation's future.

For more than 20 years, in a poverty-stricken barrio in Puerto Rico, Sister Isolina Ferre started passing out cameras to children. She told them to photograph whatever they saw. The point of the project, she later recalled, was not just to teach young people to take pictures, but to teach them to take pride in themselves. That is what Sister Isolina does best: teaching people to see the best in themselves and in their communities, and making sure they had the tools to make the most of the gifts God has given them.

Armed only with her faith, she taught warring gangs in New York City to solve their differences without violence. In Puerto Rico, her network of community service centers, the Centros Isolina Ferre, have transformed ravaged neighborhoods by helping residents to advocate for themselves. Her passionate fight against poverty, violence and despair have earned her many awards and countless tributes from all around the world. Sister Isolina once said that a community grows only when it rediscovers itself. On behalf of the many communities you have helped to make that wonderful discovery, a grateful nation says thank you to you today.

If hearing these life stories doesn't make us all prouder to be Americans, I don't know what would. I thank these people, for the lives they have lived and the light they have shined.

Thank you very much.

N.B. Ferre is the fourth Puerto Rican to receive the award. The others are former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Munoz Marin, a founder of the Popular Democratic Party; Antonia Pantojas, founder of Aspira, an agency known for helping Hispanic youth; and Ferre's brother, former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis A. Ferre, founder of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party.

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