Photo Credit: NBC News
The Medal of Freedom Award is considered the highest civilian honor in the U.S., and this year’s ceremony took place on Tuesday of this week. During the ceremony president Obama recognized 17 different people including some Hollywood greats, such as Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, James Taylor, and Gloria Estefan.
The event took place at The White House and the was broadcast live on C-SPAN. Obama brought his personality and sense of humor to the ceremony, for example when he made a yiddish joke and referenced the Saturday Night Live skit “Coffee Talk”.
When Obama went on to honor Barbara Streisand he said:
“She has collected just about every honor and award that there is – I couldn’t believe she hadn’t gotten this one. Off the stage, she has been a passionate advocate for issues like heart disease and women’s equality. I’m getting all verklempt just thinking about it.”
The president also made jokes about Steven Spielberg’s connections in the entertainment industry, and when he introduced James Taylor his speech included lyrics from Taylor’s hit song “Fire and Rain”.
When Gloria and Emilio Estefan were acknowledged for their cultural impacts Obama said:
“Some worried they were too American for Latins and too Latin for Americans; turns out everybody just wanted to dance and do the conga.”
Other recipients of the award included composer Stephen Sondheim, baseball player Willie Mays, veterans activist Bonnie Carroll, Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, former Indiana Representative Lee Hamilton, NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson, violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman, and the former EPA administrator William Ruckelshaus.
Other posthumous recipients included baseball player Yogi Berra, the first African-American congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the Native American rights activist Billy Frank Jr., and human rights leader Minoru Yasui.