Hers has been a life filled with momentous occasions, but when Burmese activist and now opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, she called it "one of the most moving days of my life."
Congress belatedly presented Suu Kyi with its highest honor Wednesday, after first passing legislation to award her the medal under President George W. Bush, in 2008. Since Suu Kyi was then under house arrest in Myanmar, known also as Burma, the medal was never presented to her.
Suu Kyi, now the opposition leader in Burma's lower house, spent 15 of the last 20 years under house arrest in her country for protesting the oppression of the regime. Released in 2010 after a regime change and elected to parliament in April of this year, Suu Kyi and her sudden rise have many cautiously optimistic that the country's regime is democratizing and reforming.
At the ceremony, Suu Kyi thanked Congress for its support of the Burmese people.
"There will be difficulties in the way ahead. But I am confident we shall be able to overcome all obstacles with the help and support of our friends," she said, adding "In spite of the imperfections, democracy still remains a beacon of hope for all of us. We have been united, we from many parts of the world, by our belief, by our confidence in democracy."
A host of officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former First Lady Laura Bush and the leaders of both parties of both houses of Congress, bestowed the honor on Suu Kyi.
"It's a great privilege to be able to honor this woman who has done so much for the Burmese people and for the cause of Democratic reform and human rights around the world," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor Wednesday.
Clinton, who voted for Suu Kyi's Congressional Gold Medal as a senator from New York, praised her for finding a way to compromise with an opposing party composed of her jailers.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., remarked on the delight of thanking, in person, someone he had admired for so long.
"I might have hoped, but I'm not sure I expected, that one day I would have the honor of welcoming my personal hero, Aung San Suu Kyi, to the Congress of the United States," he said.
After kicking off her first trip to the United States with a visit to Clinton's private office earlier this week, she will spend the next three weeks attending ceremonies and speaking in D.C., New York, Kentucky and California. She told CNN
she is looking forward to visiting Fort Wayne, Ind., the city with the nation's largest population of Burmese expatriates.
On her visit, Suu Kyi is expected to advocate
for Western help for Burma as it transitions to democracy. Tuesday, however, she noted that the Burmese are ready to build their own democracy, calling for eased sanctions
from the United States.Photo: Aung San Suu Kyi, center, receives the Congressional Gold Medal from House Speaker John Boehner, as former first lady Laura Bush, back left, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, watch. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)