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University Alum to Receive Ellis Island Medal of Honor
Steven Ortiz '09, a lieutenant in the Air National Guard who earned a Master of Music Education from The Hartt School, has been selected as a 2013 recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
Lt. Ortiz will receive the prestigious award on Saturday, May 11, on historic Ellis Island during a weekend-long celebration. He is the first Costa Rican-American to receive this honor in the award’s 27-year history.
The Ellis Island Medals of Honor are presented annually to American citizens who have distinguished themselves within their own ethnic groups while exemplifying the values of the American way of life. Past medalists include U.S. presidents, Nobel Prize winners, and leaders of industry, education, the arts, sports, and government, as well as everyday Americans who have made freedom, liberty and compassion a part of their life's work.
Medal winners dedicate their lives to helping others, and preserve and celebrate the history, traditions, and values of their ancestry group while proving themselves valuable citizens of the United States. These individuals strive for tolerance and acceptance between ethnic, racial, and religious groups in the United States and abroad and, above all, these individuals share their personal and/or professional gifts for the benefit of humanity.
Ortiz is one of 95 individuals who will be presented with an Ellis Island Medal of Honor on May 11. See the complete list of 2013 Medal of Honor recipients.
Ortiz, a music educator who has conducted some of the nation's top military bands, is commander of the Air National Guard Band of the Northeast, which has provided musical support for the Ellis Island Medal of Honor ceremony for several years. As a result of that role, the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, which presents the Ellis Island Medals of Honor, became aware of Ortiz’s humanitarian work, and nominated him for the award.
Ortiz’s parents were born in Costa Rica. As a child, Ortiz followed his mother’s example and collected used clothing to send to family members and the needy in Costa Rica. When he was just 15 years old, Ortiz founded The Good Samaritan Project, which to date has provided thousands of pounds of new and slightly worn clothing to people throughout Latin America.
Over the years, his generosity and humanitarian work in Costa Rica have expanded. For example, when Ortiz heard about a young man in his mother’s village who had obtained scholarships to attend college but did not have money for bus fare and textbooks, Ortiz provided him with funds so that he would be able to pursue his education.
Recently, Ortiz has begun to engage potential donors for funds to acquire and develop housing for those in need and to dig wells to provide access to clean water for all.
The Ellis Island Medals of Honor were established in 1986 by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO). Each year, Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipients are listed in the Congressional Record, honoring those who have made enduring contributions to our nation and to the world.
Past recipients include Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and notable figures such as Rosa Parks, Cesar E. Chavez, Muhammad Ali, Frank Sinatra, Wayne Newton, Itzhak Perlman, Joe DiMaggio, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Bob Hope, Quincy Jones, Mickey Mantle, and many other distinguished entertainers, prominent religious figures, successful entrepreneurs, senators, congressmen, and military personnel.
“I am beyond humbled to have been nominated and selected to receive such an honor,” Ortiz said. “I humbly receive this honor and share it with my fellow airmen in the Air National Guard Band of the Northeast and in the Massachusetts Air National Guard as well as my alma mater.”