Courtesy of MCT
John Glenn, a man with a list of accomplishments in areas ranging from the Marines, to NASA, to the Senate, received the nation’s highest civilian honor when President Barack Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom upon him.
Glenn received the Medal in a ceremony on May 29 at the White House, along with musician Bob Dylan, epidemiologist William Foege, and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, among others.
The president awards the Medal of Freedom to individuals who make “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” according to Executive Order 9586.
In 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. In 1998, at the age of 77, he became the oldest person to fly to space. Glenn fought as a Marine pilot in World War II and the Korean War. As a test pilot, he set the transcontinental speed record in 1957. He spent 24 years as a United States senator for the state of Ohio. He received a Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978 for his work in NASA. The John Glenn School of Public Affairs at Ohio State is his namesake.
Glenn said the win was an honor.
“I was called a couple of months ago, and it was a real surprise,” Glenn said. “It’s about as big as medals get on the civilian side, and I was really gratified.”
Glenn noted the accomplishments of the other winners.
“I was sitting side by side with William Foege, the doctor who eradicated smallpox,” Glenn said. “He saves something like two million lives a year. So you have someone of that caliber who won, and even just to be considered is a very humbling experience.”
OSU President E. Gordon Gee congratulated Glenn on his win.
“I was thrilled that my dear friend John Glenn received the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Gee said in an email. “Of course, no one is more deserving. His unwavering dedication and service to his country are unparalleled, and his legacy sets the ultimate example for those who wish to make a positive impact on the world around them.”
Director of communications for the John Glenn School of Public Affairs, Hank Wilson, called Glenn’s win a “huge deal.”
“(The award) was well deserved, he is a true American hero,” Wilson said. “And he is a living part of the school. For the namesake of the school, and he’s more than just the namesake, to win, is a big deal for us.”
Wilson said Glenn is not just the figurehead of the school named for him, he works there and enjoys meeting with students.
“He is extremely approachable, he loves to talk to students, loves talking to anybody,” Wilson said. “You could easily see where a man in his position could have a swelled head, but he does not.”
Wilson said Glenn is “exactly like what you see,” and “without a doubt the most genuine individual (he’s) ever met.”
As advice for college students, Glenn emphasized continuous education as a key to being successful.
“To most students, I’d say do exactly what you’re doing now, get a good education,” Glenn said. “Every single person has opportunities in their lives, and the best chance to take advantage of them is to become educated. Things change so rapidly, and you have to keep up with what’s going on.”
Wilson said he has seen these ideas reflected in Glenn’s own life.
“He’s done a lot, and he’s going to do more, and it’s a great recognition of that fact,” Wilson said. “There’s no moss growing on him. He’s up on everything that’s going on.”
Glenn said education allows people to make progress from the past.
“When you graduate, or go on to grad school, you are starting to make your own imprint and contributions in your own time, just like some of us have done in the past,” Glenn said.
Looking back on his accomplishments in his own life, Glenn said it would be impossible to compare one to another.
“With each phase of your life, there are moments that you’re proud of, and things that you wish you could’ve done more,” Glenn said. “There are highs and lows, but I couldn’t say any one phase is better than another. But with each phase there are things to remember.”