Mystic Aquarium was the only aquarium or zoo honored with the National Medal for Museum and Library Service at a White House ceremony Thursday.
First Lady Michelle Obama made remarks praising the Connecticut aquarium and nine other museums that the Institute of Museum and Library Services named as medal recipients..
"At the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, you’re offering summer internships to teach young people about marine biology, and you’re doing it by helping them feed and train beluga wales -- very impressive," the First Lady said, according to a ceremony transcript.
Dr. Stephen M. Coan, president and CEO of Mystic Aquarium's parent company Sea Research Foundation, accepted the medal.
“We are honored to receive this prestigious award," Coan said in a statement. "We are committed to our educational and public engagement programs that make Mystic Aquarium not only an enjoyable family destination, but also a research facility dedicated to protecting our oceans and its aquatic creatures.”
Connecticut had three other finalists of the 30 considered for the National Medal – Hartford Public Library, Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury and Otis Library in Norwich.
The National Medal honors the service of museums and libraries to their communities, according to a news release from Mystic Aquarium.
Justin Richard, who volunteered at Mystic Aquarium while attending Connecticut College in New London after several visits there as a child, attended the white House event with Coan.
“I got to interact with so many people - little kids all the way up to adults,” Richard said of Mystic Aquarium. “I’ve been lucky enough to work with the kids who come to the aquarium from Point Lay, Alaska. It really solidified my gut feeling that I wanted to teach, and was the motivation for me to go back to graduate school.”
Rodney A. Butler, a trustee for Mystic Aquarium and chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, nominated the aquarium for the award, highlighting "the pivotal role the Aquarium plays with its education and cultural exchange program for Native American high school students from the village of Point Lay, Alaska, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in southeastern Connecticut," according to the news release from Mystic.
Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Christopher Murphy (D-Connecticut) supported the nomination.
“The aquarium has brought so much joy and enrichment to not only my family, but families across the state," Blumenthal said in a statement. "This award is monumental recognition of the tremendous work of the aquarium to promote lifelong appreciation and understanding of our oceans and natural environment.”
Murphy called Mystic Aquarium a "state treasure."
"Its commitment to educating the community and visitors about ocean life and exploration, as well as the importance of preserving and protecting our natural resources, has made a hugely positive impact on the country," Murphy said.
More information about Mystic Aquarium is available on its website.