Jacinda Ardern receives major New Zealand honor for service during filming, pandemic

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received one of New Zealand’s highest honors on Monday for her service leading the country through a mass shooting and a pandemic.

Ardern was made a Dame Grand Companion, New Zealand’s second highest honour, as part of King Charles III’s birthday honours. This means that people will now call her Lady Jacinda. Royal Laureates are usually chosen twice a year in New Zealand by the Prime Minister and signed by Charles, the British King who is also recognized as the King of New Zealand.

Ardern was just 37 when she became prime minister in 2017 and was considered a global icon of the left.

She shocked New Zealanders in January when she said she was stepping down as leader after more than five years because she didn’t have “enough in the tank” to do him justice.

She was facing mounting political pressure at home, including for her handling of COVID-19, which was first widely praised but later criticized by those who oppose the mandates and rules.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who succeeded Ardern, said she was recognized for her service during “some of the greatest challenges facing our country in modern times”.

“Leading New Zealand’s response to the 2019 terrorist attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic represented times of intense challenge for our 40th Prime Minister, a time during which I have seen firsthand his commitment to New Zealand remained absolute,” Hipkins said in a statement.

Fifty-one Muslim worshipers were killed during Friday prayers in the 2019 attack on two Christchurch mosques by a white supremacist gunman.

A few weeks after the attack, Ardern made major changes to New Zealand gun laws by banning assault weapons. Over 50,000 firearms were turned over to police in a subsequent buy-back program.

Ardern said she was hesitant about whether to accept the award because much of what she was recognized for was collective experiences for all New Zealanders.

“So for me, it’s about my family, my colleagues and everyone who has supported me to do this incredibly rewarding job,” she told 1News.

Ardern will temporarily join Harvard University later this year after being appointed to a dual fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School. She has also taken on an unpaid role in the fight against online extremism.

Rugby coach Wayne Smith, who helped lead the men’s and women’s rugby teams representing New Zealand to World Cup victories, was also recognized in the King’s Birthday Honors List.

In keeping with tradition, Britain’s Queen Camilla received the highest honor by being appointed to the Order of New Zealand.

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