HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, former longtime president of The University of Texas at Brownsville, has been presented with the nation’s highest civilian honor.

President Joe Bident presented Dr. Garcia the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Washington, D.C. on July 7. Dr. Garcia was joined by her family at the White House.

President Biden introduced each awardee and spoke about their accomplishments. Garcia was the third to receive the medal.

Dr. Juliet V. García and President Joe Biden are all smiles during The Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony on Thursday, July 7, at the White House. (UTRGV Photo)

“Believing education is the cornerstone of our democracy, she created a culture of excellence, affirmation, and intellectual curiosity for generations of students, many the first in their families to go to college and who see their American dream through her and because of her,” Biden said. 

Other honorees in attendance with Dr. Garcia were Denzel Washington, Simone Biles, Gabrielle Giffords, and others.

San Juan native, Raúl Yzaguirre, a civil rights advocate who served as CEO and president of the National Council of La Raza, also received a medal.

“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 Dr. Garcia, in a press release before being awarded.

“Juliet has enriched the lives of many Rio Grande Valley students, from elementary to college,” said UTRGV President Guy Bailey in a press release. “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.”

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.

Dr. Garcia joins an elite group of Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients that includes celebrities, politicians, and public servants, stated the news release.

Dr. Garcia was born in Brownsville, Texas, and was the first Hispanic woman to serve as a collect president in the United States. She is currently a UTRGV communications professor.