On May 3rd, President Joe Biden awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to 19 distinguished individuals in a ceremony at the White House in Washington D.C. Among the recipients were four notable figures with close ties to the Santa Clara community: Father Greg Boyle, S.J., STM ‘86, Dr. Clarence B. Jones, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, and Rep. James Clyburn.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom, established by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, is presented to “individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavor.”

President Biden praised each honoree and emphasized, “They represent the pinnacle of leadership in their respective fields. Throughout their careers, they have consistently demonstrated the power of community, hard work, and service.”

Father Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that provides comprehensive services for former gang members and ex-felons, equipping thousands with life skills and employment opportunities, was among the honorees. President Biden commended Father Boyle’s work, stating, “We see that faith in Father Greg Boyle, who has changed countless lives as pastor of the disadvantaged. Your service as a Jesuit priest over four decades reminds us of the power of redemption, rehabilitation, and our obligation to those who have been condemned or counted out. Thank you, Father Greg, for your amazing grace.”

Fr. Boyle was also the keynote speaker at Santa Clara University’s 172nd Commencement Ceremony. As part of the 172nd commencement address, Fr. Boyle imparted invaluable wisdom to the graduates, urging them to be a “circle of compassion–who is fully accepting and rejects demonizing, alienating, or disposing of marginalized people seeking dignity and opportunity.” 

Dr. Clarence B. Jones, who is a valued friend of the Law School and a regular speaker for the Martin Luther King (MLK) Day Address at Charney Hall, recently met with Santa Clara University law students to discuss the “Fierce Urgency of Now.” Reflecting on his journey to law school and experience working alongside Dr. King. Dr. Jones emphasized the need to understand “the history and current reality of the application of the law” to challenge systemic racism.

In 1963, Dr. Jones played a role in assisting Dr. King in drafting the historic “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the March on Washington D.C. President Biden applauded Dr. Jones’s contributions, sharing, “He helped define the enduring ideas encapsulated in the ‘Dream,’ which will forever be engraved in the ethos of America.” 

Dr. Ellen Ochoa, sibling of the esteemed Santa Clara Law Professor Tyler T. Ochoa, has been honored for her intellectual contribution to space exploration. As the first Hispanic woman to venture into space and the Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Dr. Ochoa has been crucial in advancing our understanding of the cosmos. 

At the ceremony, Biden praised Ochoa for “ushering a whole new age of space exploration—and proving what it means for every generation to dream, to reach for the stars, and to get there.”

Rep. James Clyburn, recipient of the Panetta Foundation Award two years ago, has been a distinguished U.S. Congressman who has represented South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District since 1993. He currently serves as the Assistant Democratic Leader for the House of Representatives. 

President Biden acknowledged Clyburn’s role in his 2020 presidential campaign, crediting Clyburn’s endorsement with guiding him to secure the presidency, saying, “I would not be standing here as President and making these awards were it not for Jim.” Biden emphasized Clyburn’s enduring impact and shared,” Jim has guided South Carolina and our country with a steady hand and an honest heart for over the last half-century.” 

Congratulations to our dear friends Father Greg Boyle, Dr. Clarence B. Jones, Dr. Ellen Ochoa, and Rep. James Clyburn from the Santa Clara Law Community!

Read the full White House press release here.