The Arlington, Virginia-based Freedom Forum honored Burma's Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi with the US $1 million Al Neuharth Free Sprit Award for the year 2002.
Al Neuharth, the founder of the non-partisan foundation, in announcing the award at a National Press Club ceremony in Washington Thursday (April 24), said this prestigious award was – in his words – "for her non-violent struggle for human rights and for freedom in Burma."
He and chairman and chief executive officer of the Forum Charles Overby in February visited the Burmese democracy leader in Rangoon to let her know of the award.
In recounting his meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, Mr. Neuharth said, "She's older, but actually smaller than most of you in the audience. She is 5 feet 3 inches tall, weighs less than one hundred pounds. But every ounce of her is full of free spirit."
Aung San Suu Kyi, in a video message, told a packed crowd at the Award Ceremony that she could carry on with her mission, in spite of serious challenges imposed by the military authorities "because I felt very free. I felt strong because my mind is free. They couldn't do anything to me. They couldn't make me their prisoner."
The video also highlighted what she told to the world when she was re-released from another round of house arrest on May 6, 2002. She said, "We only hope that the dawn will move over very quickly to full morning."
On the slow progress of prisoner release by authorities, the National League for Democracy party leader expressed disappointment. She said, "I and my party have been disappointed at the slow rate of the release of political prisoners. We hope that whatever obstacles are in the way of their release will be overcome very soon."
In addition to Aung San Suu Kyi, three Americans received Free Spirit Awards that evening.
One of the honorees was Lieutenant-Colonel Martha McSally, the highest ranking female fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. McSally challenged Muslim dress codes for U.S. female troops in Saudi Arabia.
Another was Connie Reeves, a 101-year old Texas cowgirl and the oldest woman recognized in the newly opened National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.
Last but not the least was Mattie J. T. Stepanek, a 12-year old with a rare, life-threatening form of muscular dystrophy who is a best-selling author of four collections of poems.
There were also 102 high school seniors present at the ceremony. They were winners of the 2002-2003 Al Neuharth Free Spirit Scholarship and Conference Program.
Freedom Forum annually selects one young man and one young woman from each state in the United States and the District of Columbia who are interested in pursuing a career in journalism and who demonstrate qualities of "free spirit" as winners of the $1,000 scholarship.