The White House noted that Giffords is the founder of Giffords.org, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing gun violence.
"I'm so very humbled and honored to receive this award," Giffords said in prepared remarks. "Since I was shot more than 11 years ago, my personal recovery journey has taught me that it's not the setback that defines us: it's how we respond to it.
"There have been no shortage of setbacks as I relearned how to talk and how to walk, just as there have been no shortage of setbacks in the fight for gun safety that I've dedicated my life to. And yet I've never lost hope," she said.
"One of my reasons for hope sits inside the Oval Office today, elected to accomplish the near-impossible task of healing a divided nation. My faith in President Biden has never faltered, and I'm touched beyond words at this acknowledgement of his faith in me.
"I first ran for office because I wanted to improve my community. I never could have imagined the path my life would take, but public service has always been and will always be my north star. I truly believe that by starting small and taking incremental steps towards progress, we can transform the world around us."
Giffords is married to former astronaut and current Arizona Senator Mark Kelly.
According to Biden, the 17 honorees this year demonstrate the power of possibilities and embody the soul of the nation — hard work, perseverance and faith. 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.
Other Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients are (listed alphabetically):
- Simone Biles — the most decorated American gymnast in history, with 32 Olympic and World Championship medals. Biles also is a prominent advocate for athletes' mental health and safety, children in the foster care system, and victims of sexual assault.
- Sister Simone Campbell — a member of the Sisters of Social Service 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.
- Julieta García — the former president of The University of Texas at Brownsville, where she was named one of Time magazine's best college presidents. She is first Hispanic woman to have serviced as a college president and dedicated her career to serving students from the Southwest Border region.
- Fred Gray — 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) — co-founder, chief executive and chair of Apple Inc., CEO of Pixar and held a leading role at the Walt Disney Co.
- Father Alexander Karloutsos — 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 a Protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
- Khizr Khan — a Gold Star father and founder 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 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom under President Biden.
- Sandra Lindsay — 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) — 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 U.S. Senate and was the Republican nominee for president in 2008.
- Diane Nash — 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 — an Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women's World Cup champion and a prominent advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice, and LGBTQI+ rights.
- Alan Simpson — 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) — 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.
- Brigadier General Wilma Vaught — 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 — 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 — a civil rights advocate who was CEO and president of National Council of La Raza for 30 years. He also was U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Barack Obama.
The ceremony took place one week before the nationwide release of Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down, a documentary by the makers of the RBG documentary that chronicles Gabby’s inspiring recovery story and gun safety advocacy.