Washington. US President Barack Obama today filled the White House with stars for his final Medal of Freedom ceremony in which he honored actors Robert de Niro, Robert Redford and Tom Hanks; musician Bruce Springsteen and basketball legend Michael Jordan, among others.
Obama summoned 21 people to give them the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian in the United States, and he became the highest-ranking US president during his tenure with at least 114.
“Everyone on this stage has managed to move me personally in a very powerful way, in ways they probably can not imagine. They have helped me to be who I am,” Obama said at the conclusion of the ceremony in the White House.
Among the honorees were singer Diana Ross, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, architect Frank Gehry, basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, actress Cicely Tyson and rector of Miami Dade College (MDC), Cuban Eduardo Padrón.
Mr Obama highlighted DeGeneres’ accomplishment, saying it was easy to forget that she had risked her career in 1997 when she came out as gay.
It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far … just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago.
“What an incredible burden that was to bear — to risk your career like that — people don’t do that very often. And then, to have the hopes of millions on your shoulders.”
“But it’s like Ellen says, ‘we all want a tortilla chip that can support the weight of guacamole’. Which really makes no sense to me,” he said.
They are extraordinary Americans, who have inspired us, brought us together and pushed us to progress. They are innovators and artists, public servants, athletes, or known actors of method as the type that came out in Space Jam,” joked Obama in reference to the appearance of Michael Jordan in that film in 1996.
Like other US presidents, Obama has tried to get his ideas about the country reflected in the Medal of Freedom honors, and has given that award to more minority members (44) and more women (41) than any of his predecessors, according to a Washington Post report.
Some of those honored today in the White House have also been critical of Obama’s successor, Republican Donald Trump, including Springsteen, De Niro and Abdul Jabbar.
Obama highlighted the qualities of the award-winners one by one: the most popular player in NBA history said “there’s a reason why people say ‘you’re the Michael Jordan of something'” because it personifies “what it means to be rveally good at something. ”
About Abdul Jabbar, he said that “when a sport changes its rules just to make it harder for you, you’re really good,” referring to the ban on math in college basketball in 1967, noting that the historic Los Angeles Pivot Lakers defended “their Muslim faith when it was neither easy nor popular.”
With Springsteen he extended more than the rest, asserting that he has dedicated his career to creating “hymns about the United States,” which relate the “simple glories and sufferings of daily life” in the country, and highlighted how with 67 years he continues giving four-hour concerts.
“I’m the president, he’s the boss,” Obama joked.
As for Robert De Niro, he praised his “honest and authentic art” and his “dramatic precision,” although he also joked about his fixation on mafia roles: “a mobster running a casino, a mafioso in need of therapy, Al Capone…”.
About Robert Redford he emphasized not only his work as an actor, but also his support for the independent films from the Sundance Institute and his “support to the National Parks” of the United States, a work that “has no plans to slow down” at 80 years.
Tom Hanks, for his part, has introduced Americans to various “simple heroes,” according to the president, who described the award-winning actor simply as “a good man,” which is “the best title one can have.”