Top US civilian honor goes to 21 artists, athletes, others

President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to singer Diana Ross during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to singer Diana Ross during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor to 21 groundbreaking actors, musicians, athletes and innovators who inspired him over the years and “helped make me who I am.”

Former NBA basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar, left, reacts as President Barack Obama, right, attempts to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former NBA basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar, left, reacts as President Barack Obama, right, attempts to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“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 honored 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 honorees. 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.”

President Barack Obama greets actor Tom Hanks during a ceremony presenting Hanks with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
President Barack Obama greets actor Tom Hanks during a ceremony presenting Hanks with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross were recognized for their music.

Other honorees 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 honors 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 defense.

— 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.

 

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