WASHINGTON – Miami Dade College president Dr. Eduardo Padron was awarded the nation's highest civilian honor Tuesday -- the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"In the early 1960s, thousands of Cuban children fled to America seeking an education they would never get back home," an announcer said as Padron was called to stand up next to President Obama. "And one refugee was a 15-year-old named Eduardo Padron, whose life changed when he enrolled at Miami Dade College.
"That decision led to a bachelor's degree, then a master's degree, then a Ph.D., and then he had a choice. He could go on to corporate America, or he could give back to his alma mater. And Eduardo made his choice to create more stories just like his."
Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees are selected by the president for their contributions to the security or national interests of the country.
Padron was chosen because of his work over four decades to ensure that all students have access to high-quality, affordable education.
"As Miami Dade College's president since 1995, Dr. Padron has built a dream factory for one of our nation's most diverse student bodies -- 165,000 students in all," the announcer said. "He is one of the world's pre-eminent education leaders, thinking out of the box, supporting students throughout their lives (and) embodying the belief that we're only as great as the doors we open."
Padron spoke to Local 10 News political reporter Michael Putney before going to Washington, D.C., and said that he was humbled by the recognition from the president.
"To think that someone like me, an immigrant, who came to this country with nothing, will be honored by the president of the most powerful nation in the world, is a great thing. I am so grateful," he said.
The 21 recipients who were honored at the White House included:
Elouise Cobell (posthumous)
Robert De Niro
Bill and Melinda Gates
Margaret H. Hamilton
Grace Hopper (posthumous)