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President Biden to present The Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dr. Juliet V. García, the first Mexican-American woman college president in the nation, on Thursday, July 7, 2022 in Washington, D.C. - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Dr. Juliet V. García, former longtime president of The University of Texas at Brownsville, will be presented the nation’s highest civilian honor, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, on Thursday, July 7, 2022, in Washington, D.C.



President Biden to present The Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dr. Juliet V. García, the first Mexican-American woman college president in the nation, on Thursday, July 7, 2022 in Washington, D.C.


Dr. Juliet V. García, former longtime president of The University of Texas at Brownsville, will be presented with the nation’s highest civilian honor, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, on Thursday, July 7, 2022 in Washington D.C.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, 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 endeavors.

“I’ve always believed that educating the next generation of citizens was our primary mission because once educated, they would help nurture, defend, and sustain the democracy of the United States. I believe that now more than ever,” said García. “It’s been a great privilege to spend a lifetime in advocacy working with hundreds of honorable and courageous people.”

García, a current University of Texas Rio Grande Valley communications professor, and 16 distinguished Americans are the first to receive the honor under President Joe Biden’s term. She joins an elite group of Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients that includes celebrities, politicians, and public servants.

“Juliet has enriched the lives of many Rio Grande Valley students, from elementary to college,” said UTRGV President Guy Bailey. “Her contributions to higher education in South Texas and beyond are long lasting and have created pathways of success among a new generation of Latino leaders. On behalf of everyone at UTRGV, I congratulate Juliet on this well-deserved national award.”

She was the first Mexican-American woman to serve as a college president in the United States.

During her tenure as president, García pioneered a partnership between UT Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, a community college where she served as president from 1986 to 1992, when she assumed the presidency of UTRGV’s legacy institution UT Brownsville. She stepped down as UTB president in 2014 when UTRGV was established.

President Joe Biden has long said that America can be defined by one word: possibilities.

““These 17 Americans demonstrate the power of possibilities and embody the soul of the nation – hard work, perseverance, and faith,” Biden said. “They have overcome significant obstacles to achieve impressive accomplishments in the arts and sciences, dedicated their lives to advocating for the most vulnerable among us, and acted with bravery to drive change in their communities – and across the world – while blazing trails for generations to come.”

In addition to García, the following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

Simone Biles

Simone Biles is the most decorated American gymnast in history, with combined total of 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. Biles is also a prominent advocate for athletes’ mental health and safety, children in the foster care system, and victims of sexual assault.

Sister Simone Campbell

Sister Simone Campbell is a member of the Sisters of Social Services and former Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization. She is also a prominent advocate for economic justice, immigration reform, and healthcare policy.

Gabrielle Giffords

Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was the youngest woman ever elected to the Arizona State Senate, serving first in the Arizona legislature and later in the U.S. Congress. A survivor of gun violence, she co-founded Giffords, a nonprofit organization dedicated to gun violence prevention.

Fred Gray

Fred Gray was one of the first black members of the Alabama State legislature since Reconstruction. As an attorney, he represented Rosa Parks, the NAACP, and Martin Luther King, who called him “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”

Steve Jobs (posthumous)

Steve Jobs (d. 2011) was the co-founder, chief executive, and chair of Apple, Inc., CEO of Pixar and held a leading role at the Walt Disney Company. His vision, imagination, and creativity led to inventions that have, and continue to, change the world communicates, as well as transforming the computer, music, film, and wireless industries.

Father Alexander Karloutsos

Father Alexander Karloutsos is the former Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. After over 50 years as a priest, providing counsel to several U.S. presidents, he was named by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as a Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Khizr Khan

Khizr Khan is a Gold Star father and fonder of the Constitution Literacy and National Unity Center. He is a prominent advocate for the rule of law and religious freedom and served on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom under President Biden.

Sandra Lidsay

Sandra Lindsy is a New York critical care nurse who served on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. She was the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials and is a prominent advocate for vaccines and mental health for health care workers.

John McCain (posthumous)

John McCain (d. 2018) was a public servant who was awarded a Purple Heart with one gold star for his service in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. He also served the people of Arizona for decades in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and was the Republic nominee for president in 2008.

Diane Nash

Diane Nash is a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who organized some of the most important civil rights campaigns of the 20th century. Nash worked closely with Martin Luther King, who described her as the “driving spirit in the nonviolent assault on segregation at lunch counters.”

Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe is an Olympic gold medalists and two-time Women’s World Cup champion. She also captains OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. She is a prominent advocated for gender equality, racial justice, and LGBTI+ rights.

Alan Simpson

Alan Simpson served as a U.S. Senator from Wyoming for 18 years. During his public service, he has been a prominent advocate on issues including campaign finance reform, responsible governance, and marriage equality.

Richard Trumka (posthumous)

Richard Trumka (d. 2012) was president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO for more than a decade, president of the United Mine Workers, and secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Throughout his career, he was an outspoken advocate for social and economic justice.

Wilma Vaught

Brigadier General Wilma Vaught is one of the most decorated women in the history of the U.S. military, repeatedly breaking gender barriers as she rose through the ranks. When she retired in 1985, she was one of only seven women generals in the Armed Forces.

Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington is an actor, director, and producer who has won two Academy Awards, a Tony Award, two Golden Globes, and the 2016 Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also served as National Spokesman for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America for over 25 years.

Raúl Yzaguirre

Raúl Yzaguirre is a civil rights advocate who served as CEO and president of the National Council of La Raza for 30 years. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Barack Obama.


“My job was always to thrust open doors of opportunity for students to learn, compete, and succeed in the classics, chess, physics, or the performing arts. We did this by building a campus that unapologetically honors our cultural and environmental heritage, and then by filling it up with brilliant faculty and dedicated staff,” said García.

“Serving as a foremost anchor institution in our region meant that we were committed to convening people across political and geographic boundaries to engage in difficult dialogues to tackle the complex issues of finding ways to maximize the full potential of our human capital, develop sustainable communities to propel economic growth and advocate for the unique issues of our nation’s borderlands,” she added.

The recipient of numerous awards, TIME magazine named García one of the top 10 college presidents in the nation in 2009 and she was named one of the top 50 world leaders by Fortune magazine. In 2008, García was selected to join President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team.

García, a Brownsville, Texas native, received her Ph.D. in communication and linguistics from The University of Texas at Austin and her M.A. and B.A. in speech and English from the University of Houston.

“Juliet Villarreal García personifies the American dream. As the first Mexican-American woman to lead a U.S. college or university, Dr. García has been the inspirational force behind countless individuals who made public service their life’s work and students who realized their academic potential,” said UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken. “I am proud to call her one of our own – as a distinguished alumna of The University of Texas at Austin and President of UT Brownsville – and I congratulate Dr. García on this prestigious and well-deserved honor.”

Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, Speaker Phelan, along with Chair of Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees, announce additional $105.5 million for school safety, mental health initiatives

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, Senate Finance Committee Chair Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and House Appropriations Chair Dr. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, on Tuesday, June 28, 2022 announced the transfer of $105.5 million to support additional school safety and mental health initiatives through August 31, 2023.

This additional funding will boost actions the State of Texas has already taken to make schools safer and support the mental health of children, teachers, and families following the tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

$100.5 million will be transferred to state agencies and programs to enhance school safety and mental health services in Uvalde and throughout Texas.

The funding will provide:

• $50 million for bullet-resistant shields;

• $17.1 million for school districts to purchase silent panic alert technology;

• $7 million for rapid response training by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center and $3 million for local law enforcement agencies to offset travel expenditures associated with the training;

• $7 million to the Texas School Safety Center for on-site campus assessments to evaluate access control measures;

• $5.8 million to expand the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) statewide;

• $5 million to the Texas Department of Public Safety to expand fusion center research and capabilities.

• $4.7 million to the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to increase Multisystemic Therapy (MST) across the state; and

• $950,000 to HHSC to expand Coordinated Specialty Care (CSC) teams across the state.

State leadership also approved up to $5 million to be used by the Hill Country Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities (MHDD) Center to assist in evaluating mental health services in the Uvalde community and preparing a needs assessment for the Legislature.

Comments from the five state legislative leaders follow:

Gov. Abbott

“The State of Texas is acting swiftly to ensure our schools are secure and that children, teachers, and families across Texas have the support and resources they need to be safe as we work to prevent future tragedies like the heinous crime committed in Uvalde. Our communities – urban and rural – are stronger when Texans are safe and healthy, and I thank my partners in the Legislature for quickly addressing the need to expand critical mental health and school safety initiatives in the Lone Star State.”

Lt. Gov. Patrick

“With the new school year starting in a few short months, it is of paramount importance that we provide this funding to improve school safety and mental health services. A few weeks ago, I said I wanted to ensure we provided bullet-resistant shields to our schools as soon as we could. Schools must be equipped with all the tools they need to protect our students. This funding will also address important mental health care issues. In the upcoming session, we will build on the $100 million we appropriated in 2019 after the Santa Fe tragedy, for these issues, and more.”

Speaker of the House Phelan

“Funding these much-needed initiatives marks the first of many steps that we will take at the legislature to respond to the horrific events in Uvalde and prevent another tragedy like this from happening again. Important policy discussions and debates remain on how the Legislature will tackle issues such as school safety, mental health, firearm safety and more, but this important first step will ensure that action is taken and implemented before school starts again in August. The Texas House looks forward to working more on these issues in the coming months and throughout the 88th Legislature beginning in January.”

Sen. Huffman

“Immediately providing over $100 million in additional support for mental health and school safety initiatives will ensure these additional resources are available prior to the 2022 – 2023 school year. However, this additional financial support is not the end, as the Legislature will continue to prioritize these initiatives during the next budget cycle.”

Rep. Bonnen

“In response to the recent tragedy that struck Uvalde, today the legislature has taken action to provide funding for necessary mental health services and school safety resources. Continuing on the investments made throughout past sessions, this commitment will ensure additional telehealth services are quickly available to more school-aged children both within the Uvalde community and across the state. This comprehensive approach to mental health services and enhanced school safety resources will ensure that actions are undertaken prior to the start of the school year, with a continued conversation and additional funding to be provided during the upcoming legislative session.”

Read the proposal letter from state leadership and the approval letter from the Governor.

Abbott said he has taken significant action to provide all available resources to support the Uvalde community following the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School.

Those actions include:

Initiating the State of Texas’ comprehensive plan to assist and support members of the community, including co-locating state agency representatives to the Family Assistance Center for on-hand assistance in finding benefits.

Issuing a disaster declaration to accelerate all available state and local resources to assist the Uvalde community.

Requesting Texas legislative leaders convene special legislative committees to begin examining and developing legislative recommendations on school safety, mental health, social media, police training, firearm safety, and more.

Directing the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) to begin immediately conducting comprehensive school safety reviews to ensure all Texas public schools are following the appropriate procedures to maximize school safety.

Directing the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to provide strategies to make Texas public schools safer through heightened safety standards.

Instructing the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) programs to provide training to all school districts across the state, prioritizing school-based law enforcement.

Directing TEA, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to expand and accelerate the ability to report suspicious activity through the iWatchTexas reporting system.

Investing an initial $5 million to establish a long-term Family Resiliency Center in Uvalde County to serve as a hub for community services, including access to critical mental health resources.

Working with the OneStar Foundation to create a one-stop webpage for donations to support the victims’ families, teachers, and the Uvalde community.

Directing the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to ensure all children in Uvalde have access to behavioral health resources and community support.

Directing TEA to create a new Chief of School Safety and Security position within the agency.

Urging the Texas District & County Attorneys Association (TDCAA) to increase lie-and-try prosecutions of people who lie on information provided for gun background checks.


David A. Díaz contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (

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