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About The Al Neuharth Free Spirit of the Year Award


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The Al Neuharth Free Spirit Award is given annually by the Freedom Forum to a person in the news who has stirred the public’s hearts and souls by demonstrating the human capacity to dream, dare and do. The award carries a prize that can be as high as $1 million. The award is given to honor the winner’s “free spirit” and to provide the winner the opportunity to perpetuate that ideal.

The Free Spirit award program was established in 1992 by the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit for all people. In 1999, the Freedom Forum significantly enhanced and expanded the award, establishing a $25 million endowment to support the program and renaming the award to honor Al Neuharth, founder of the Freedom Forum, upon his retirement from the board of the Freedom Forum.

Al Neuharth characterizes the essence of the award in this way: “Free spirits dream, dare and do.” A free spirit can also be a risk-taker, a visionary, an innovative leader, an entrepreneur, or a courageous achiever who accomplishes great things beyond his or her normal circumstances. Past “Free Spirit” winners include: Barbara Bush, Terry Anderson, Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and William J. Brennan, Chuck Yeager, Eunice Shriver, Erik Weihenmayer, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Greg Mortenson.

The “Free Spirit of the Year” is selected by a diverse and distinguished committee of national and international members. The award is announced at the end of the year and presented at a ceremony and dinner in Washington, D.C., the following March.

The Al Neuharth Free Spirit of the Year Award, designed and sculpted by Tiffany & Co., is crafted of sterling silver. The award is hand-formed in a flowing wing design symbolizing free spirit and sits on a 5¼-inch base, which is hand engraved with the recipient’s name.

The Free Spirit award ceremony is also the capstone event of the Al Neuharth Free Spirit Scholarship and Conference program. That program awards $1,000 college scholarships to each of 102 high school seniors (a male and female from each state and the District of Columbia) who are interested in pursuing a career in journalism and who demonstrate qualities of free spirit. The students are selected through an application process and are brought to Washington, D.C., to receive their awards and participate in a journalism conference.

Al Neuharth Free Spirit of the Year Award recipients


Bob Schieffer ($10,000 award)


Eileen Collins ($100,000 award)


Brian Lamb ($100,000 award)


Greg Mortenson ($100,000 award)


Aung San Suu Kyi ($1 million award)


Erik Weihenmayer ($250,000 award)

Alice Randall ($250,000 award)

Donald Woods ($250,000 award)

Brig. Gen. Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager ($250,000 award)


Elian Gonzalez ($1 million in his honor for youth refugees)

Free Spirit Award recipients


Father John E. Adams ($10,000)

Andrew Carroll ($10,000)

Paul Q. Chow ($10,000)

Dodo Cheney ($10,000)

Marjorie Deneke ($10,000)

Charles E. Eriksen ($10,000)

Nick Irons ($10,000)

JoAnn Kauffman ($10,000)

Tsuyako “Sox” Kitashima ($10,000)

Aaron Smith ($10,000)

Keen Umbehr ($10,000)

Mother Mary Ann Wright ($10,000)


Shannon Lucid ($25,000 in her honor to the NASA College Scholarship Fund)

Ruth Ziolkowski ($100,000 to the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation)


Myrlie Evers-Williams ($100,000 in her honor to the NAACP)

Barbara Bush ($100,000 to the George Bush Presidential Library)


David Clark ($10,000)

Jaime Escalante ($10,000)

Reuben Greenberg ($10,000)

Mary Hannick ($10,000)

Alex Hwang ($10,000)

K.W. Lee ($10,000)

Wilma Mankiller ($10,000)

Dorothy McPhillips ($10,000)

Chuck Stone ($10,000)

Jerry Thompson ($10,000)

Endeavour astronauts who repaired the Hubble Space Telescope:

  • Richard Covey

  • Story Musgrave

  • Kenneth D. Bowersox

  • Tom Akers

  • Jeffrey Hoffman

  • Claude Nicollier

  • Kathryn Thornton
    ($250,000 to the NASA College Scholarship Fund)
  • Robert C. Maynard ($100,000)


William Joseph Brennan ($100,000)

Thurgood Marshall ($100,000)

Jim Abbott ($100,000 to The Amigos de los Niños)

Eunice Kennedy Shriver ($100,000 to the Special Olympics International)


Terry Anderson ($245,500)