Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom

February 23, 1983

One of the greatest privileges and the most distinct pleasures of my job is the duty that I perform today, awarding our nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

This medal is given to those who have risen to pinnacles of achievement in their fields. It's a recognition of their accomplishments, hard work, and dedication for America and for humanity. The recipients of this award have touched all our lives with their contributions, strengthening the fabric of our society and improving the quality of our life.

The men and women that we honor today come from across our land—some, children of immigrants; some, immigrants themselves; many from humble beginnings. But they all share a quality that Carl Sandburg once summed up so well when he wrote, "Man is born with rainbows in his heart."

These men and women never lost sight of them, living out their dreams in their adult lives. We call their award "The Medal of Freedom," because only in a free society such as ours do we have the opportunity to climb as high and go as far as our dreams, talent, and energy will take us.

I'm reminded of the scene that took place in Washington the first summer that I was here as President. It was evening on Memorial Day, and the National Symphony was giving the traditional free concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol. As a backdrop, the Capitol dome was lighted and stood out dramatically against the clear night sky with our flag waving over it. And Maxim Shostakovitch was conducting his first concert since leaving the Soviet Union. And after a standing ovation from the audience, Shostakovitch spoke quietly and with measured eloquence. "Today," he said, "for you and me is a great day. For you it is a great national day, and for me, I'm happy twice-to play for you and to be free."

Well, I know the 12 men and women we're about to honor understand how Shostakovich felt. With their talent and with the freedom of our way, the life that was given them to use it, by working and living among us, they've broadened and enriched Freedom for us all. We're proud and grateful they're Americans.

Now, let me read the citation, and I will present the medal to each one.

[As the President called each name, the recipient or the person accepting for the recipient went to the podium to receive the medal and remained standing behind the President. The President read the citations which accompanied the medals. The texts of the citations are printed below. ]

George Balanchine. Accepting the medal for Mr. Balanchine is Suzanne Farrell, principal dancer of the New York City Ballet and his student.

The genius of George Balanchine has enriched the lives of all Americans who love the dance. Since he arrived in America as a young man in 1933, he has entertained and inspired millions with his stage and film choreography. Major among his greatest contributions as a ballet master are the founding of the first American classical ballet company, the great New York City Ballet, and the School of American Ballet. Throughout his career Mr. Balanchine has entertained, captivated and amazed our diverse population, lifting our spirits and broadening our horizons through his talent and art.

And the next is a posthumous award to Paul W. Bryant, and Bear Bryant's granddaughter, Mary Harmon Tyson, will accept the medal on behalf of her family.

In many ways, American sports embody the best in our national character—dedication, teamwork, honor and friendship. Paul "Bear" Bryant embodied football. The winner of more games than any other coach in history, Bear Bryant was a true American hero. A hard but beloved taskmaster he pushed ordinary people to perform extraordinary feats. Patriotic to the core, devoted to his players and inspired by a winning spirit that never quit, Bear Bryant gave his country the gift of a legend. In making the impossible seem easy, he lived what we all strive to be.

James Burnham:

As a scholar, writer, historian and philosopher, James Burnham has profoundly affected the way America views itself and the world. Since the 1930's, Mr. Burnham has shaped the thinking of world leaders. His observations have changed society and his writings have become guiding lights in mankind's quest for truth. Freedom, reason and decency have had few greater champions in this century than James Burnham.

And I owe him a personal debt, because throughout the years traveling the mash-potato circuit I have quoted you widely. [Laughter]

Dr. James Cheek:

As the president of one of our country's greatest institutions of higher learning, and as an outstanding black American scholar, James Cheek embodies the spirit of excellence in education. Dr. Cheek's distinguished career and community work are impressive testimony to his commitment to his calling and his country. His efforts have helped to build a better life for black Americans and a better country for us all.

R. Buckminster Fuller:

A true Renaissance Man, and one of the greatest minds of our times, Richard Buckminster Fuller's contributions as a geometrician, educator, and architect-designer are benchmarks of accomplishment in their fields. Among his most notable inventions and discoveries are synergetic geometry, geodesic structures and tensegrity structures. Mr. Fuller reminds us all that America is a land of pioneers, haven for innovative thinking and the free expression of ideas.

Reverend Billy Graham:

Reverend William "Billy" Graham's untiring evangelism has spread the word of God to every corner of the globe, and made him one of the most inspirational spiritual leaders of the Twentieth Century. As a deeply committed Christian, his challenge to accept Jesus Christ has lifted the hearts, assuaged the sorrows and renewed the hopes of millions. Billy Graham is an American who lives first and always for his fellow citizens. In honoring him, we give thanks for God's greatest spiritual gifts—faith, hope, and love.

And, Billy, I'm going to have to tell them something that you told me, because with all of this, too, there is a practical side of life. Reverend Graham was in the Soviet Union, and invited by a bureaucrat of that governmental structure to lunch, and found himself faced with a lunch, as he described it, that was more magnificent and more of a gourmet type of thing than he had ever seen—caviar that wouldn't stop and every other thing that you could eat. And he couldn't resist saying to his host, "But how can you live this way, do this, when there are so many people out there in your country that don't have enough to eat, that are hungry?" And the man said, "I worked hard for this." And, God bless him, Billy Graham said, "That's what the capitalists say." [Laughter]

Lili Osborne will accept the medal on behalf of Eric Hoffer.

Eric Hoffer:

The son of immigrant parents, Eric Hoffer is an example of both the opportunity and the vitality of the American way of life. After overcoming his loss of sight as a child, Eric Hoffer educated himself in our public libraries. As an adult he has relished hard work and believed in its dignity, spending 23 years in jobs ranging from lumberjack to dockworker. As America's longshoreman philosopher, his books on philosophy have become classics. Mr. Hoffer's spirit, self-reliance and great accomplishments remind us all that the United States remains a land where each of us is free to achieve the best that lies within us.

I only had one opportunity, but I shall treasure the day that as Governor of California I was able to have him come over to my office, and I got some pretty good sound and salty advice. [Laughter]

Clare Booth Luce.


A novelist, playwright, politician, diplomat, and advisor to Presidents, Clare Booth Luce has served and enriched her country in many fields. Her brilliance of mind, gracious warmth and great fortitude have propelled her to exceptional heights of accomplishment. As a Congresswoman, Ambassador, and Member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Clare Booth Luce has been a persistent and effective advocate of freedom, both at home and abroad. She has earned the respect of people from all over the world, and the love of her fellow Americans.

Dr. Dumas Malone.

And the medal will be accepted by his son, Gifford Malone.

As one of the foremost historians, authors, and scholars of this century, Dumas Malone has recounted the birth of our Nation and the ideals of our Founding Fathers. Among Dr. Malone's most notable accomplishments is his biography of Thomas Jefferson, now regarded as the most authoritative work of its kind. Dr. Malone's contributions to our national lore will remain invaluable to succeeding generations as each takes up responsibility for the heritage of freedom so eloquently described in his articles and books.

Mabel Mercer—and the citation:

Mabel Mercer has been called a living testament to the artfulness of the American song, and a legend if there ever was one. Her talent, her elegance and her unique way with a lyric have gathered a devoted following all over the world. Her special style has influenced some of America's most famous performers, earning her the reputation of a singer's singer. Miss Mercer's career has spanned more than 60 years and she continues to delight audiences and critics alike. With her incomparable talent she has helped shape and enrich American music.

Simon Ramo:

As an engineer, businessman, physicist and defense and aero-space pioneer, Simon Ramo's career has been on the forefront of American technology, development and growth. The son of a storekeeper in Salt Lake City, Dr. Ramo built his business from a one-room office to a nationwide network of production plants. A shining symbol of American ingenuity and innovativeness, Dr. Ramo was also a distinguished author, philanthropist and civic leader. His life's work has strengthened America's freedom and protected our peace.

And in addition, while I was Governor, once he wrote a speech for me to give at a very distinguished educational gathering that quieted all charges that I was not of an intellectual capacity. [Laughter] And Jacob K. Javits:2

In an outstanding public career of nearly 34 years Jacob Javits has distinguished himself as a New York State Attorney General, United States Representative and United States Senator. He has ably represented the people of New York in the Congress and all Americans to the world. With leadership and wisdom he has guided America through historic turning points, striving always for justice at home and peace in the world.

Well, that concludes the presentations. By the achievements of their lifetimes and by their presence here today, in person or in spirit, each recipient has brought honor to the White House. And I thank you for being our guests today. God bless you all, and [addressing the honorees behind him on the podium] God bless all of you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:12 p.m. in the East Room at the White House following a luncheon for the recipients and their guests.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Presidential Medal of Freedom Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives