FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – written by Jordan Lindsey
September 28, 2020
For a condensed PDF press release, click here.
The program’s first-ever virtual event took time this past Saturday to recognize students for their dedication to initiative, achievement, and service.
WASHINGTON, D.C., September 26, 2020 — Last Saturday, the United States Congress honored 478 incredible young leaders with The Congressional Award Gold Medal in the program’s first-ever virtual Gold Medal Ceremony. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this is the first year the Gold Medal Ceremony has been held virtually, providing a unique opportunity to celebrate the efforts made by some of America’s most exceptional youth.
The Congressional Award Gold Medal is the highest honor that a Member of Congress can bestow upon a youth civilian. This year’s Gold Medalists are the most recent addition to an exceptional group of individuals who have received the prestigious award throughout the program’s 41-year history. Each Gold Medalist has completed at least 400 hours of Voluntary Public Service, 200 hours of Personal Development and Physical Fitness, respectively, and a 5 day, 4-night Expedition/Exploration over the span of a minimum two years.
Hosted by the Chairman of The Congressional Award, Paxton Baker, the ceremony began with an inspiring video message from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi congratulated the medalists and encouraged their continued commitment amidst the pandemic:
“Our nation is at a pivotal moment, as our communities confront the unprecedented coronavirus crisis and fight the systemic injustices that continue to undermine the strength of our democracy. If we are to meet these enormous challenges, we need your leadership, your imagination, and your commitment to serving others.”
Throughout the ceremony video, Chairman Baker took viewers to several of Washington, D.C.’s landmarks including the Capitol Building, Nationals Park, the Washington Monument, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Chairman Baker also interviewed each of the ceremony’s special guests: Wolf Blitzer, Senator Mike Enzi, and Emmitt Smith.
Speaking from his experience in becoming a journalist and CNN’s Lead Anchor, Wolf Blitzer encouraged the medalists,
“Find what you really, really love doing and see if there’s a good career path you can take, that will enable you to do that on a day-to-day basis. You’ll do it well—if you love what you’re doing.”
United States Senator from Wyoming, Mike Enzi humbly told Chairman Baker,
“My reward is watching the youth respond to Congressional Awards, and develop through Congressional Awards, and then do things after the Congressional Awards.”
NFL Hall of Famer and businessman Emmitt Smith shared the wisdom he had gained from his family and throughout his career,
“We all have a responsibility to each other, not only to earn the right to be respected and give respect, but to take the opportunity to help another person in need.”
Videos and photos submitted by the Gold Medalists were shown with participants highlighting aspects of the program that meant most to them. Medalist Abhinav Krishnan from North Carolina said,
“The Congressional Award program has given me the ability to see past my social circles in my everyday life and see the true challenges that my real community faces.”
Carson Beck of Arizona commented on some of his Voluntary Public Service work:
“I was able to learn about giving back to my community through raising money for wounded veterans, and redoing a rock wall for a youth outreach center in my community.”
Lavanya Neti from California told viewers how the program
“inspired me to start my own non-profit, Schools for Success, where I guide and motivate other young people to complete their own charitable projects.”
Among other medalists’ videos, special remarks were given by Congresswoman Katie Porter (CA-45), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Congressman Richard Hudson (NC-8), and Congresswoman Liz Cheney (WY-0).
“I hope you all will join me in congratulating these young people for all their hard work in making our community a better place,” said Congresswoman Porter, who’s district had the most Gold Medalists this year, with 42 awardees.
Also giving special remarks was Senator for New York, Kirsten Gillibrand, who told the medalists
“Your dedication and service to your communities is needed now more than ever. You’ve shown you not only have what it takes to lead the next generation, but to lead our country into the future.”
As the ceremony video came to a close, viewers were shown a message from Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell:
“I’m proud of the bright young people in Kentucky, and around the country, who have committed time and talent to serving their communities. I’m excited to see all the good that you’ll continue to do.”
Following the ceremony video, Gold Medalists tuned in for a Keynote Address from Congressional Award Board Member and past Gold Medalist (class of ’04) Mateo Magdaleno. Magdaleno is an internationally known, community servant leader and professional empowerment speaker with an inspiring story that stresses the importance of never giving up on the pursuit of an education despite the challenges involved.
“Focus on the things you do have, and not the things you don’t have. Work with what you’ve got! We can change our attitudes towards our circumstances. Choose happiness. Choose gratitude.”
Following the Keynote, National Director of The Congressional Award, Erica Heyse made a few exciting announcements and conducted live giveaways for Washington Nationals merch.
Among the announcements was The Congressional Award’s latest partnership in coordination with the program’s Diversity & Inclusion initiative, with Intuit.
The medalists then joined virtual break-out networking sessions with The Congressional Award Board Members, sharing their experiences with the program, their interests, and taking advantage of the opportunity to connect with their peers.
Four afternoon panels on topics of interests to the medalists included discussions around nonprofit leadership, race relations and social justice, women in leadership, and entrepreneurship. Panelists featured an array of social, government, and industry leaders committed to work in each area of focus.
Panel #1 | Women in Leadership: Breaking Barriers and Shattering Glass Ceilings
- Keira Lombardo (Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Compliance, Smithfield Foods)
- Kerry McClean (Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Intuit)
- Karen Gally (Vice President & General Counsel, Otsuka)
- Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas’ 18th Congressional District)
- Sanyin Siang (Founding Executive Director, COLE, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business)
Panel #2 | Nonprofit Leadership: Where Business and Social Change Intersect
- Merrill Eisenhower Atwater (CEO, People to People International)
- Adan Gonzalez (Founder & Executive Director, Puede Network)
- Deborah Rutter (President, The Kennedy Center)
- Depelsha McGruder (COO & Treasurer, Ford Foundation)
- Congressman David Cicilline (Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District)
- Ray Kerins (Senior Vice President and Head of Communications, Government Relations & Policy, Bayer)
Panel #3 | Entrepreneurship: Betting on Yourself
- Brian K. Johnson (President & CEO, Advance Higher Ed LLC)
- Brad Knox (Senior Vice President & Counsel, Aflac)
- Chiling Tong (President & CEO, National ACE)
- Kirk Spahn (Founder & President, Institute for Civic Leadership)
- Congressman Jim Himes (Connecticut’s 4th Congressional District)
- Romero Brown (CEO, Romero Brown Consulting)
Panel #4 | Race Relations & Social Justice: Not a Trend, but a Lifelong Commitment to Progress
- Dr. Hakim J. Lucas (President & CEO, Virginia Union University)
- Councilmember Will Jawando (Montgomery County Council, Attorney, Activist)
- Courtney Christian (Senior Director of Policy and Research, PhRMA)
- Jodie Geddes (Co-Manager, Coming to the Table)
- David Osman (Clinical Quality Program Administrator, Anthem)
The virtual ceremony, usually held in person at The Capitol Visitor Center, is one of several steps taken by The Congressional Award Foundation to support and celebrate America’s youth during the pandemic. To learn about some of the ways The Congressional Award has responded to the pandemic and upcoming programs and updates visit us at our website.
The Gold Medalist Class of 2020 come from 41 states, contributing a combined total of over 226,000 hours of Voluntary Public Service to their communities – the states with the highest number of awardees being California, Wyoming, Texas, New Jersey, and New York. See our fact sheet for our full list of medalists from this year and other interesting facts.
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