Obama honors 'agents of change'

—For more than four decades, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has boldly fought for equal opportunity, fairness and justice for all Americans. In his tireless quest for a more perfect union, Sen. Kennedy has reformed our schools, strengthened our civil rights, helped seniors and working families, lifted up the poor, and worked to ensure that every American has access to quality and affordable health care. With volumes of laws bearing his name and countless lives touched by his extraordinary passion, Sen. Kennedy has accumulated several lifetimes' worth of achievements. The United States proudly recognizes this righteous citizen, devout public servant and giant among men.

—Through her example and advocacy, Billie Jean Moffitt King has advanced the struggle for greater gender equality around the world. In an age of male-dominated sports, her pioneering journey took her from Long Beach, Calif., to the lawns of the All England Club and the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Her athletic acumen is matched only by her unwavering defense of equal rights. With Billie Jean King pushing us, the road ahead will be smoother for women, the future will be brighter for LGBT Americans, and our nation's commitment to equality will be stronger for all.

—Rev. Joseph E. Lowery has marched through life with faith and purpose, carrying with him the legacy of a movement that touched America's conscience and changed its history. At the forefront of the major civil rights events of our time — from the Montgomery bus boycott to protests against apartheid — he has served as a tireless beacon for nonviolence and social justice. As a pastor and civil rights advocate, he co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and championed the cause of peace and freedom around the world. The United States proudly honors this outstanding leader.

—As a warrior and living legend, history flows through Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow High Bird. Born on a reservation and raised by traditional grandparents, he became the first member of his tribe to earn a master's degree. For his valiant service in World War II, he was awarded the status of Crow War Chief, and his renowned studies of the First Americans and contributions to cultural and historical preservation have been critical to our understanding of America's history. Joe Medicine Crow is a symbol of strength and survival, and the United States honors him for his dedication to this country and to all Native Americans.

—Harvey Bernard Milk dedicated his life to shattering boundaries and challenging assumptions. As one of the first openly gay elected officials in this country, he changed the landscape of opportunity for the nation's gay community. Throughout his life, he fought discrimination with visionary courage and conviction. Before his tragic death in 1978, he wisely noted, "Hope will never be silent," and called upon Americans to stay true to the guiding principles of equality and justice for all. Harvey Milk's voice will forever echo in the hearts of all those who carry forward his timeless message.

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