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Greta Thunberg receives NEA’s Friend of Education Award for climate change activism

Highest honor given to ‘rabble rouser’ teen who took on the world for a better tomorrow

WASHINGTON - July 03, 2020 -

The National Education Association awarded its highest honor, the Friend of Education Award, to 17-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg during NEA’s virtual Representative Assembly today. 

Thunberg is a Swedish environmental activist who gained international recognition for her efforts to alert humanity to the existential crisis caused by climate change. Known for both her youth and straightforward speaking manner, she has criticized world leaders for their failure to take sufficient action to address the climate crisis. 

What began in 2018 as a singular child skipping school on Fridays to sit outside the Swedish Parliament to protest climate change has become a global movement. In the past 18 months, she has addressed the United Nations, met with Pope Francis, taken on President Donald Trump and inspired 4 million people to join a global climate strike on September 20, 2019, which became the largest known climate demonstration

“We deserve a safe future. And we demand a safe future,” Thunberg said at the Global Climate Strike in New York last year. “Is that really too much to ask?”

To NEA members, that question is not too much to ask. In fact, it’s the exactly right question to ask as the world stares down real, tangible climate change exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. In nominating Thunberg, NEA members cited the Swedish teen’s ability to elevate the discussion about science — climate science, in particular — like a next-generation Bill Nye.

“Greta is an ordinary teen who has done something truly extraordinary: she has been able to get people — the adults in charge — to pay attention and listen to her message about climate change. Hopefully they’ll act because future generations, Greta’s generation and others, depend on it,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Greta is a rabble rouser, and she’s taking on the world for a better tomorrow.”

The NEA Friend of Education Award is presented during NEA’s annual convention and recognizes a person or organization whose leadership, acts or support have significantly contributed to the improvement of American public education. Thunberg joins Nobel-prize winner Malala Yousafzai as the second-ever student to receive NEA’s highest honor. Other past recipients include economist Paul Krugman; education policy writer and researcher Linda Darling-Hammond; leaders of the Public Broadcasting Service and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; U.S. Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and William Jefferson Clinton; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley; U.S. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Edward “Ted” Kennedy (D-Mass.); and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), among others.

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The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, students preparing to become teachers, healthcare workers, and public employees. Learn more at

Contact: Staci Maiers


2020 Friend of Education | NEA’s YouTube Channel, July 3, 2020

NEA’s Highest Honor Goes to Climate Teen Activist, Greta Thunberg | RA Today, July 3, 2020

NEA to Host Virtual Representative Assembly July 2-3 | NEA Today, June 29, 2020

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Joe Biden to Address NEA’s Virtual Representative Assembly | NEA Press Release, June 23, 2020

National Education Association to host 2020 Representative Assembly virtually due to COVID-19 pandemic | NEA Press Release, April 20, 2020

Transcript: Greta Thunberg's Speech At The U.N. Climate Action Summit |, September 23, 2019

How big was the global climate strike? 4 million people, activists estimate. | Vox, September 22, 2019

We should all be appalled by Donald Trump's tweet about Greta Thunberg |, December 13, 2019

2020 NEA Friend of Education Award

NEA President Profile: Lily Eskelsen García