United States President Bill Clinton with Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients, including ASPIRA founder Antonia Pantoja (left of podium, center), 1996. Photo of award ceremony. U.S. President Bill Clinton stands at a podium, and to his left are the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, including Antonia Pantoja, founder of ASPIRA, in the center. Antonia Pantoja, born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1922, is best known for founding ASPIRA in 1961 to counter a high dropout rate by Puerto Rican youth in New York City's high schools. Pantoja emphasized leadership development and community service, as well as a commitment to educational excellence. In 1968, ASPIRA America grew out of the original organization, now know as the ASPIRA Association, with offices in several states and Puerto Rico.