On Monday, November 24th, President Barack Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 18 recipients at the White House. Among the recipients were actress Meryl Streep and singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder. Composer Stephen Sondheim, the 19th recipient, was unable to attend, but will receive his award at the 2015 event. Six of the 18 awards were presented posthumously, with three honoring civil rights workers who were murdered in 1964 while registering blacks to vote.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
“I look forward to presenting these nineteen bold, inspiring Americans with our Nation’s highest civilian honor. From activists who fought for change to artists who explored the furthest reaches of our imagination; from scientists who kept America on the cutting edge to public servants who help write new chapters in our American story, these citizens have made extraordinary contributions to our country and the world,” President Obama said prior to the event.
During the White House ceremony, the president remarked, “Not only have they made the world better, but by following their example they make us a little bit better every single day. We are truly grateful to them.”
Highlights of the ceremony included a few well-placed and lighthearted remarks, compliments of President Obama. Of Streep, the president gushed, “I love her. Her husband knows I love her. Michelle knows I love her. There’s nothing that either of them can do about it. Meryl is truly one of America’s leading ladies.”
The president also confessed that the first record he ever bought with his own money was by Stevie Wonder.
When sharing Ethel Kennedy’s ALS challenge to him last summer, he noted that he wrote a check instead. “I don’t like pouring ice water on top of my head. That is probably the only time I’ve ever said no to Ethel, by the way,” Obama said to laughter.
The one-hour ceremony concluded with a charming cocktail reception for award recipients and attendees.
See the bios for each of the honorees here.
Karima Mariama-Arthur Esq. is the founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport, an international consulting firm specializing in professional development. Follow her on Twitter: @wsrapport or visit her website, WordSmithRapport.com.