New Rochelle, NY (February 16, 2011) — John J. Sweeney, an alumnus of Iona College (class of 1955), was one of 15 distinguished individuals who was presented with the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom yesterday by President Barack Obama in a ceremony at the White House.
Mr. Sweeney is the current President Emeritus of the AFL-CIO, and served as President of the AFL-CIO from 1995 to 2009. The son of Irish immigrants, a domestic worker and a bus driver in the Bronx, he worked his way up in the labor movement to become President of the Service Employees International Union, growing the union to serve as a strong voice for working people. As President of the AFL-CIO, he revitalized the American labor movement, emphasizing union organizing and social justice, and was a powerful advocate for America’s workers.
Sweeney graduated from Iona College with a degree in economics. As President of the AFL-CIO, he was in charge of the largest coalition of unions in the U.S. at approximately 11.5 million workers. In 2000, he was also elected president of the Trade Union Advisory Committee, an international organization that represents nearly 70 million workers in 29 different countries. Sweeny has received honorary degrees from Georgetown University, Oberlin College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Baltimore, Catholic University Law School and the University of Toledo’s College of Law.
Mr. Sweeney received an Honorary Degree from Iona in 2010. In 1995, he was the honoree at the college’s Trustee Award Dinner and, in 1975, was presented with the Brother Arthur A. Loftus Alumni Award for outstanding achievement.
President Obama said: “These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place. I look forward to awarding them this honor.”
The other honorees were:
President George H. W. Bush, 41st President of the United States.
Congressman John Lewis, a giant of the civil rights movement who served as
chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), helped
to organize the first lunch-counter sit-in in 1959 at the age of 19, and was the
youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington.
Maya Angelou, prominent and celebrated author, poet, educator, producer,
actress, filmmaker, and civil rights activist.
John H. Adams, co-founder the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970.
Warren Buffett, legendary investor, industrialist, and philanthropist.
Jasper Johns,, noted artist who has produced a distinguished body of work
dealing with themes of perception and identity since the mid-1950s.
Gerda Weissmann Klein, a Jewish Holocaust survivor who has written several
books about her experiences and has dedicated her life to promoting tolerance
and understanding among all people.
Dr. Tom Little (posthumous), an optometrist who was brutally murdered on
August 6, 2010, by the Taliban in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan,
Afghanistan, along with nine other members of a team returning from a
humanitarian mission to provide vision care in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan.
Yo-Yo Ma, considered the world’s greatest living cellist.
Sylvia Mendez, noted civil rights activist.
Stan Musial, baseball legend and Hall of Fame first baseman for the St. Louis
Bill Russell, former Boston Celtics’ Captain.
Jean Kennedy Smith, founder of VSA, a non-profit organization affiliated with
the John F. Kennedy Center that promotes the artistic talents of children, youth
and adults with disabilities.
Chancellor Angela Merkel. Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
and the first woman and first East German to serve as Chancellor of a unified
Founded in 1940 by the Congregation of Edmund Rice Christian Brothers, Iona College
is a private, coeducational institution of learning in the tradition of American Catholic
higher education. Iona – currently listed in the top tier of US News and World Report’s
annual “America’s Best Colleges 2011”; The Princeton Review’s Best Northeastern
Colleges 2011 edition and Business Week’s Top 25 Undergraduate Business Schools
in the Northeast – offers undergraduate degrees in liberal arts, science, and business
administration, as well as Master of Arts, Master of Science and master of business
administration degrees and numerous post-graduate certificate programs.