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Former Kent State Employee Awarded Posthumous Presidential Medal of Honor

Posted Nov. 14, 2011 | Foluke Omosun
enter photo description
The late Vijaya Emani was awarded a
2011 Presidential Citizens Medal
posthumously for her courage in
overcoming speaking out against
domestic abuse.

President Barack Obama has awarded former Kent State employee Vijaya Emani a posthumous 2011 Presidential Citizens Medal. Emani, who died in a vehicle accident on her way to work in 2009, was honored for her courage in overcoming speaking out against abuse.

According to the White House, Emani became a role model for victims of domestic abuse because of her strength and determination in overcoming domestic abuse in her own life. She broke a long-held taboo in the Indian American community by speaking out about the issue publicly.

Emani, a senior applications developer with Kent State’s Division of Information Services at the time of her death, was a community activist who supported many causes, including projects to aid the homeless and promote diversity.

“She had one of those personalities where you were instantly drawn to her. She was friendly, outgoing and wanted to learn about everything and everyone,” says Rebecca Benya, lead applications developer and Emani’s colleague. “The day she died was a horrible weather day, but I’m sure because of her incredible work ethic she never considered staying home that day. She was one of those people who I can honestly say had a beautiful soul. The news of her death came as a horrible shock to all of us.”

Division of Information Services Executive Director Coleen Santee, who was Emani’s manager, says, “She accomplished a lot in the short time she was here. She was assigned to a collaborative state project, and she hit the ground running.”

Emani’s two daughters received the award on behalf of their mother at a White House ceremony on Oct. 20.

“My mom never asked for any awards for her work,” says Emani’s daughter, Sujata Emani. “She did the work that she was passionate for and believed that it was her duty in life to make sure that no one else struggled as she once did. I hope those who read her story are inspired to continue to do community service and help keep her memory and the memory of many others like her alive and well.”

Kent State Assistant Professor Parthasarathy Rajagopal, a close friend of the late Emani, feels honored that she received the award. “Vijaya is like my sister, and I am truly happy that she received the Presidential Citizens Medal for her selfless service as a social worker and community leader,” he says. “Her passing was a huge loss to the community and the people that she served.”

For more than 40 years, the Presidential Citizens Medal has recognized Americans who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or fellow citizens. The medal is one of the highest honors available to a civilian. This year, about 6,000 nominations were submitted out of which 13 outstanding Americans were selected to receive the award.