Editor's Note: In the wake of Sen. John McCain's death Saturday, at the age of 81, Starbucks Newsroom remembers the October evening last year when he was honored with the 2017 Liberty Medal for his lifetime of service and sacrifice. Starbucks chairman emeritus, Howard Schultz, former Vice President Joe Biden and others were among those who paid tribute to him. “I must believe that every time you took that oath of allegiance to the Constitution, you were also pledging your heart to our country,” said Schultz, that evening. “More than an oath of loyalty, you pledged an oath of love.” Read on for the full story, originally published Oct. 16, 2017.
By Linda Dahlstrom / Starbucks Newsroom; Photo credit: Peter Van Beever
Oct. 16, 2017
On Monday evening at Philadelphia’s Independence Mall, “history lives among us,” said Howard Schultz, as he looked across the stage at Sen. John McCain.
Schultz, Starbucks executive chairman, was among those honoring McCain who was being awarded the 2017 Liberty Medal for his lifetime of sacrifice and service to the United States.
The award is presented annually by the National Constitution Center to those who have done extraordinary things to further liberty around the world.
“I’m humbled by it,” said McCain, who was greeted with a standing ovation. “I’ll try my best not to prove too unworthy of it. I’ve had the good fortune to spend 60 years in service to this nation. I’ve been repaid a thousand times over with adventures and the satisfaction of being in service to something larger than myself and for being a bit player in the story of America.”
Vice President Joe Biden presented his friend of more than four decades with the award, recounting the words his mother used to tell him often growing up: “You are defined by your courage and you are redeemed by your loyalty.”
“Courage and loyalty,” Biden said. “I can think of no better description of the man we are honoring.”
In addition to Biden and Schultz, other speakers included Dr. Amy Gutman of the University of Pennsylvania and Jeffrey Rosen of the National Constitution Center, paid tribute to McCain.
“Senator McCain, I stand here in awe of America’s shared heritage and with the utmost respect and gratitude for you, sir,” said Schultz during his speech. He recounted McCain’s years serving as a Naval officer, the years he spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam enduring horrific abuse and his six terms serving as a U.S. senator.
“I must believe that every time you took that oath of allegiance to the Constitution, you were also pledging your heart to our country,” said Schultz. “More than an oath of loyalty, you pledged an oath of love.”
He noted McCain’s continued commitment to the Veterans and active service members, such as celebrating Fourth of July each year with American troops overseas. It’s an area of shared passion for Schultz. He and his wife, Sheri, through the Schultz Family Foundation, have launched Onward Veterans, a national initiative helping veterans overcome the challenges of returning to civilian life. Starbucks has also committed to hiring 25,000 veterans by 2025.
Schultz highlighted McCain’s courage in not only his military service, but as a senator willing to vote his conscience and reach across party lines to find common ground.
“Looking at the man we honor here tonight,” he said, “I am comforted and confident in our potential as a united nation to live up to the best of our past, to put forth the best of ourselves, and to forge a future worthy of all Americans – especially great Americans who inspire us, like John McCain.”
In closing, McCain looked to the past while also encouraging the crowd to go forward in service.
“We are living in the land of the free, the land where everything is possible,” he said. “We live in a land made of ideals. We are the custodian of those ideals at home and the champion of them abroad…We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause.”
In reflection on his many decades of service, he said. “I’m the luckiest guy on earth. I’ve served America’s cause, the cause of freedom and equal justice all my adult life. Among the few compensations of old age is the acuity of hindsight. And I see I was part of something important.”
Past recipients of the Liberty Medal include Nelson Mandela, Colin Powell, Kofi Annon, Sandra Day O’ Connor, the Dalai Lama and other luminaries.
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For more information on this story, contact Linda Dahlstrom