Each generation is defined by a handful of significant events which shape our nation for future generations of Americans. For some of these occurrences, decades pass before their true impact is felt, while the effects of others are known immediately. This week we recognize and honor nine individuals and their courageous actions that took place 50 years ago at Little Rock Central High School that had an immediate impact on our society, and are still felt and appreciated today.

Little Rock Central High School found itself in the spotlight of the entire nation on September 25th, 1957, when nine students, escorted by the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, walked up the front steps and integrated the school. The names Minnijean Brown Trickey, Thelma Mothershed Wair, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Elizabeth Eckford, Melba Pattillo Beals and Ernest Green are barely recognizable alone, but collectively as the Little Rock Nine, they gained national attention for their strength and unified determination to make our public schools a place for everyone to learn – regardless of race.

As we commemorate 50 years of integration at Little Rock Central High School and honor the nine students who made this a reality, we should also reflect upon the great strides our nation has made due to this historic event in Arkansas. As we memorialize their legacies of bravery so that future generations of Americans will forever know their struggle, we can never forget the sacrifices endured by these nine individuals for the sake of progress on behalf of millions.

Each of the Little Rock Nine was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 1999 and I am proud to have helped pass a bill authorizing the U.S. Mint to memorialize the Little Rock Nine with a commemorative silver dollar. The significance of this momentous event will live on as we continue to honor the nine young men and women who broke down a barrier in Little Rock that was felt throughout the state of Arkansas and around the world.