In a surprise announcement this morning, President Barack Obama was named the winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The prize is one of the highest honors given to an individual or a group. The announcement was made in Oslo, Norway, headquarters of the prize committee.
The Nobel Committee said that Obama's efforts to make the world a better place were the reason for the award. They said that the President's goals to reduce the world's supply of nuclear weapons, to improve relations with Muslim countries and to increase the U.S. role in dealing with climate change made him the best candidate for the award. There were 172 other people nominated for the prize.
"I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many [important people] that have been honored by this prize," Obama said. "I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the challenges of the 21st century."
The Norwegian Nobel Committee's chairman, Thorbjoern Jagland noted: "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future."
A Big Surprise
The award was a total surprise to the President, who was asleep when the announcement was made. (Oslo time is six hours ahead of Washington, D.C.) White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama heard the news when he woke up before 6:00 this morning. The Norwegian Nobel Committee decided not to let Obama know before they made the public announcement. "Waking up a president in the middle of the night isn't something you do," Jagland said.
Since 1901, scientists and scholars have been awarded Nobel Prizes for their outstanding achievements in science, literature and peace. The Nobel Prize was named for Swedish dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel. He left almost all of his fortune to help set up the prizes. In his will, Nobel said that he wanted the prizes to be awarded to those who have had the "greatest benefit to mankind." Since then, the award committee has gone beyond peace in awarding the prize. Now it includes people and groups who are making efforts to fight poverty, illness and environmental issues.
Until Obama's win, the last U.S. President to receive the prize while in office was Woodrow Wilson in 1919. The other was Theodore Roosevelt who was given the award in 1906. Former President Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, more than 20 years after he left office.