President Barack Obama awarded the nation’s highest civilian honour to 21 groundbreaking actors, musicians, athletes and innovators who inspired him over the years and “helped make me who I am.”
“Everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, personal way, in ways that they probably couldn’t imagine,” Obama said in concluding an hour-long ceremony Tuesday in the White House East Room.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom recognizes especially meritorious contributions to the national interests of the United States, its security and its culture. Obama called the 2016 group a “particularly impressive class.”
In the film world, Obama honoured Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford and Cicely Tyson.
Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, two of the greatest basketball players ever, were also among the honourees. Obama noted how Jordan’s name is synonymous with excellence.
“There is a reason you call somebody ‘the Michael Jordan of,'” Obama said. “The Michael Jordan of neurosurgery, or the Michael Jordan of rabbis, or the Michael Jordan of outrigger canoeing. Everyone knows what you’re talking about.”
Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross were recognized for their music.
Other honourees included philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, comedian Ellen DeGeneres and broadcaster Vin Scully.
Obama said the people receiving the medal helped push America forward and inspired millions around the world.
Posthumous honours went to Native American advocate Elouise Cobell and Rear Adm. Grace Hopper.
Others receiving the award included:
— Richard Garwin, an inventor and polymath physicist who made pioneering contributions to the nation’s defence.
— Frank Gehry, one of the world’s leading architects.
— Margaret H. Hamilton, a mathematician and computer scientist.
— Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
— Lorne Michaels, producer of Saturday Night Live.
— Newton Minow, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman devoted to numerous public and charitable causes.
— Eduardo Padron, president of Miami Dade College.