Obama Honors His Favorites in Last Medal of Freedom Ceremony

‘Everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, personal way,’ Obama says

President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, who spent most of his career with Obama’s hometown Chicago Bulls, on Tuesday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, who spent most of his career with Obama’s hometown Chicago Bulls, on Tuesday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Posted November 22, 2016 at 6:29pm

President Barack Obama honored 21 people from the worlds of culture, sports, innovation, public service and business, and perhaps chose a few for his last Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony who are unlikely to receive such recognition under a Donald Trump presidency.

“This is what makes us the greatest nation of earth,” Obama said at the ceremony Tuesday in the White House’s East Room.

When comedian Ellen DeGeneres received her award from the president, she began to cry. 

“It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far … just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out … almost 20 years ago,” Obama said. “Just how important it was, not just to the LGBT community but for all of us.”

[Word on the Hill: Celebrities in Town for Medal of Freedom]

He added that the comedian “reminds us that we have more in common than we realize” and “inspires us to be better people, one joke, one dance at a time.”

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Earlier, DeGeneres had some issues getting into the White House because she forgot to bring a form of identification with her. She tweeted a photograph of herself outside, waiting to be let in.

Lorne Michaels has been the creator and producer for 40 years of a show that Trump doesn’t like very much. The president-elect just this week tweeted his disdain for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

On Sunday he tweeted, “It is a totally one-sided, biased show — nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?”

“SNL remains a point of view … into, not just our counterculture, but our culture,” Obama said.

“He created a world where … Tom Hanks is on ‘Black Jeopardy,’” Obama said, referring to a recent SNL skit in which Hanks plays a Trump supporter.

“He produced a senator, too,” Obama said, referring to Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken, a former writer and performer on the show.

Singer Bruce Springsteen hasn’t shied away from voicing his liberal views.

He refused to play a concert in North Carolina because of the state’s bathroom laws targeting transgender people, did not allow President Ronald Reagan to use his songs and refused requests for concerts and meetings with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

“All of us, in our faults and our failings, every color and class and creed, are bound together by one defiant, restless train going towards the land of hope and dreams,” Obama said of the power of Springsteen’s songs.

He added, “I’m the president. He’s the Boss.”

Actors Robert De Niro, Robert Redford and Tom Hanks’ longstanding careers also were praised by the president. 

Obama listed the many “mobsters” De Niro has played in movies.

“His true gift is the sensitivity that he brings to each role,” he said.

Following the ceremony, De Niro spoke about Trump to a group of reporters: “I’m going to give the guy a chance and see how it goes, he’s owed that.”

Obama noted that “At 80 years young, Robert Redford has no plans to slow down.”

And, the president called Tom Hanks “America’s dad.”

Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster Vin Scully looks down at his Presidential Medal of Freedom while music icons Diana Ross and Bruce Springsteen applaud during the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster Vin Scully looks down at his Presidential Medal of Freedom while music icons Diana Ross and Bruce Springsteen applaud during the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

He acknowledged many of the recipients’ philanthropic work, especially the immense contributions of honorees Bill and Melinda Gates through their foundation.

Throughout his presidency, Obama showed the nation his love for basketball.

NBA Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan were both honored for their careers on the court and their post-career advocacy.

After Obama’s remarks, each honoree was called up on stage to receive their medal.

In the audience were Sens. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Chris Coons of Delaware, and Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York, all Democrats, who lifted up their phones to take a photographs of the celebrities when each was called for his or her medal.

Also in the audience were first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Secretary of State John Kerry and former Attorney General Eric Holder, among others.

When Springsteen was given his medal, the crowd yelled “Bruuuuuuuce.”

“Everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, personal way,” Obama said.