President Joe Biden awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 17 Americans on Thursday. This was the first time the president would be awarding the highest civilian honor to anyone since he took office. He was awarded the honor himself in 2017 when he was vice-president to former President Barack Obama.

President Biden Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to 17 Americans

In an award-giving ceremony attended by VP Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff, the White House said the Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded to Americans who have distinguished themselves in private and public life and contributed significantly to peace, prosperity, security, and values of the United States.

The award was bestowed on Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington, Olympic gold medalist and Women’s World Cup champion Megan Rapinoe, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, former Alabama lawmaker Fred Gray, retired Brigadier-General Wilma Vaught, the first nurse to receive COVID-19 vaccine Sandra Lindsay, Gold Star father Khizr Khan, and first Hispanic woman college president Dr. Julieta Garcia.

Others that also received the honor included Catholic Sister Simone Campbell, civil rights activist Diane Nash, former vicar-general of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Father Alexander Karloutsos, former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, and civil rights advocate Raul Yzaguirre. The award was posthumously given to former Senator John McCain, former AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Actor Washington was not able to attend the event because he has COVID-19, but the president said he will be given the award at a more suitable time. At 25, Biles was the youngest American to ever receive the award, adding to her growing list of 33 medals. Biden was full of smiles and kind words for the recipients, recalling their past interactions and making jokes about some past events. He hugged many of the awardees while decorating them with the award.

“President Biden has long said that America can be defined by one word: possibilities,” the White House said in a statement. “These 17 Americans demonstrate the power of possibilities and embody the soul of the nation – hard work, perseverance, and faith.”