Elvis Presley’s Highest Honor

Elvis Presley is possibly the most celebrated entertainer of all time. He won Grammy Awards, has sold millions of records and his own Hall of Gold at his home can’t even hold all of his Gold, Platinum and Diamond Records, much less the countless other awards he won during his legendary career.

But his most treasured award wasn’t for making money or becoming a household name; it was for being a good man.

In 1970, Elvis was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men by the United States Junior Chamber, or the Jaycees. It was the only award he ever accepted in person, and it was the only award he carried with him every where he went for the rest of his life.

In celebration of Citizenship Day on September 17, let’s take a look at Elvis’ highest honor.

The ceremony for Ten Outstanding Young Men was on January 16, 1971.

The ceremony for Ten Outstanding Young Men was on January 16, 1971.

The Ten Outstanding Young Men program – now renamed the Ten Outstanding Young Americans – was created by the Jaycees in 1938 to honor 10 Americans, aged 18-40, who “best exemplify the highest attributes of the nation’s emerging generation,” according to the Jaycee’s website. Men and women who excel in all fields, including entertainment, sports, business, academics, politics, medicine, science, technology and humanitarian efforts, are honored.

In 1970, Elvis was close friends with Bill Morris. Bill was the Shelby County Sheriff, and he went on to serve as the mayor of Memphis. Bill nominated Elvis for inclusion in Ten Outstanding Young Men, thanks to his impact on music and culture, not to mention his charitable heart. Elvis constantly donated to charities, especially those in Memphis and Shelby County.

Bill Morris was a special guest at Conversations on Elvis during Elvis Week 2015.

Bill Morris was a special guest at Conversations on Elvis during Elvis Week 2015.

Elvis was incredibly honored by his inclusion in Ten Outstanding Young Men.

He and Priscilla attended the JCC prayer breakfast at the Memphis Holiday Inn Rivermont, and later that afternoon, United Nations ambassador-appointee and future U.S. President George H. W. Bush spoke at the JCC luncheon.

That evening, Elvis and Priscilla held a reception at Graceland for the award winners and Jaycee officials, followed by a formal dinner at the Four Flames Restaurant.

The 8 p.m. awards ceremony took place at Ellis Auditorium – a building very special to Elvis. He went to plenty of concerts there and eventually performed there himself as a young singer.

Here's the program for the Ten Outstanding Young Men events in Memphis.

Here’s the program for the Ten Outstanding Young Men events in Memphis.

Elvis always commanded a stage, and that’s what he did with his heartfelt speech at the awards ceremony.

He quoted one of his favorite Roy Hamilton songs in his acceptance speech.

“When I was a child, ladies and gentlemen, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book. I saw movies, and I was the hero in the movie. So every dream that I ever dreamed, has come true a hundred times,” he told the audience. “I learned very early in life that, ‘Without a song, the day would never end. Without a song, a man ain’t got a friend. Without a song, the road would never bend.’ So I keep singing a song.”

Hear Elvis’ speech on this week’s Graceland Podcast.

Elvis accepts his Ten Outstanding Young Men Award in Memphis.

Elvis accepts his Ten Outstanding Young Men Award in Memphis.

Elvis’ Ten Outstanding Young Men Award was one of his most prized possessions.

The trophy is named the JAYSON, which stands for Jaycees: Active Youth Serving Our Nation. Each one weighs 11.5 lbs and is made out of a marble base with nickel-plated hands.

Elvis took his trophy with him on all of his travels for the rest of his life, so it definitely shows some wear and tear – but that just shows how important it was to Elvis and how much he loved it. The trophy and the suit Elvis wore to the awards ceremony are both now on display at Graceland.

Elvis' award and suit from the Ten Outstanding Young Men Awards Ceremony are both at Graceland and are on display.

Elvis’ award and suit from the Ten Outstanding Young Men Awards Ceremony are both at Graceland and are on display.

Elvis is, of course, in good company with his inclusion to Ten Outstanding Young Men.

Others who have received this honor include former U.S. President Bill Clinton (State Affairs, 1979); Wayne Newton (Entertainment, 1977); Howard Hughes (Business, 1938); Peyton Manning (Sports, 1999); Christopher Reeve (Entertainment, 1981); and Orson Welles (Drama, 1938 and 1941).

The Kennedy family has also been honored: John, Robert and Ted, all for National Affairs in 1946, 1954 and 1967, respectively, and Ted. Jr., for Human Improvement in 1999.

If you’ve never seen Elvis’ Ten Outstanding Young Men award, come see it today at Graceland.

If you’re a Graceland Insider, check out a video about a Ten Outstanding Young Men artifact on the members-only site. Not an Insider? Join today!


18 Comments

  1. Just goes to show, a poor country boy who took the world by surprise and storm, he held the recognition and fact that he was someone who had achieved national and international sucess with him everywhere. The recognition amongst thid stature of peers was most dear to him. He really was a humble soul despite his excess. God bless him.

    • The Ruff Family

      You are so right. Elvis truly gave God the glory for his immense achievement, and God blessed him abundantly.

  2. Patty burns

    I’ve alway love the quote Elvis said without a song makes u thank of ur own life’s ups n downs along the trail of life

  3. I admire and love Elvis very much with his qualities and faults like every human beeing. He helped me so much during a difficult period in my life through his music and he will be forever in my heart. I wish I can make it to Graceland one day. That would be a dream coming true.
    He surely deserved this award and all the others he received and he deserves the love and respect of his fans all over the world. God bless him.

    • Rob cole

      Do go to Graceland it’s so humbling to walk in the footsteps of a great human being

  4. Barbara Crist

    The humility and compassion of this very special man are shown in all his phases of life. He was a star but he thought of others first. Being honored with this award certainly impacted the last 7 years of his life. His humble beginnings where he was taught manners,respect for others, importance of religion helped him mold his unique relationship with his fellow men. What a genuine thrill to listen to his music on Elvis Radio.. He was the one and only King of Rock and Roll…❤️⚡️⭐️

  5. Yvonne Hart

    I had the absolute thrill of visiting Graceland for the celebration for Elvis’ 80th birthday in January. It was a dream come true for me I traveled with the Elvis Presley fan club of Great Britain one of the oldest fan clubs in the world. There is I think more love and respect for all Elvis stood for now than in the past. I saw his beautiful and well traveled Ten Outstanding Young Men statue I can’t think of anyone who deserved it more than Elvis. His compassion, generous heart and his phnominal talent were more than enough to justify him being included. For him to still be loved and missed his music still lives on with more people being added to his fan base a whole new generation of fans is fantastic. I am so looking forward to the new cd of Elvis and the Royal Philamonic Orchastra I envisage it topping the music charts. Elvis the top of the Ten Outstanding Men of all time Elvis Love Graceland

  6. stephen stathis

    Carl Jung once said, “You judge a man by his weaknesses, not his strengths.” When you apply that to EP, he comes out looking better than being a King: he overcame so much to produce music that will live forever. So many often can’t make it trhough one day or one week let alone produce greatness within themselves let alone what EP did from ’54-’77. That standard makes EP look even better than the myth. Stephen

  7. Gary Canton

    Elvis without a doubt deserved this honour.Even now 38 years after his untimely passing he is still outselling artists…that only proves that he he’s the king of music…not just Rock n Roll.

    • Jo-Ann Lombardo

      I wholeheartedly Agree! EXrctremely EXrEXrctremely
      Talented man!!!

  8. Linda Ezell

    If I mention the name Elvis Presley, I only get sweet
    smiles. I only get the immediate response and the wonderful
    Elvis stories that follow. I have been a devoted
    fan for over 65 years.

  9. Pam Bevins

    It was an honor richly deserved. Thank you for sharing this memory of his proudest achievement.

    #luvmesomeElvis

  10. martin orr

    i to am a devoted elvis fan athough i never met him in person during his life time and mine im still a fan i still listen to his music he was one of a kind and is still missed still today elvis tcb man and rip in the lords heavenly kingdom until i meet you again with my mom and dad in heaven adios my friend

  11. Jeanne Forgues

    He truly was a gift from God. love you always

  12. Elvis is was the greatest entertainer to ever walk this earth then and now. He deserves every award given to him. There hasn’t been nor ever will be anyone who can compare to Elvis.

  13. Tom Roach

    In 2013 Entertainer Nathan Osmond received the TOYA Award. Elvis and The Osmonds were good friends. Elvis would send flowers in the shape of a guitar to The Osmonds dressing room when they would arrive in Vegas. Elvis sat down with the Osmonds and strongly encouraged Them to have his costume designer make jumpsuits for them, so they did! After Elvis lost his sweet Mother, it was not uncommon for him to call Olive Osmond, the mother of The Osmonds for long conversations. Elvis said that Olive reminded him of his mother.

    As Nathan Osmond stood before the large crowd to accept his TOYA Award, he graciously spoke about Elvis and what a kind and generous man he was and how much he meant to The Osmond family. As Nathan came to the conclusion of his acceptance he said “In honor of our dear friend I must close by saying these words, Thank you, thank you very much”.

  14. Stella Van tonder

    He was a Gift from God with a unique voice and inner beauty. Being human he was not perfect but to us as fans he will always remain perfect. He had it all! Most of all, he was humble just like our President Nelson Mandela was!I wish the two of them could have met in life. I wish I could see “My Hero” home-Graceland. He helped me as a child going through a very rough time by making it easier with his beautiful voice and being so sexy! From a loving South African Fan!xoxoxo

  15. Mary Williams

    His voice was so unique you could feel the passion and still to this day I get chills listening to certain song. Having just returned from Graceland I feel so humbled to have been able to see all they had on show that once belonged to Elvis. Thank you to everyone involved in putting Graceland together for the fans it would have been so easy to sell up and auction off all these items but you have done him proud. Love to Lisa for allowing us all access to her home

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