On Monday, President Barack Obama paid tribute to humanities by awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Obama presented the nation’s highest civilian honor to 19 individuals who made meritorious contributions towards the security or national interests of the Unites States, world peace, or cultural endeavors whether private or public. He praised the recipients shining light on their accomplishments.
James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were among the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom this year, all killed during the voter registration drive in Mississippi back in 1964. Posthumous medals were also awarded to Alvin Ailey for choreography and Reps. Patsy Mink of Hawaii and Edward Roybal of California.
Ailey was more than just a dancer. He was revered as a revolutionary. His company, formed 56 years ago, marked the beginning of a new era in dance in African-American experience. His vision was bigger than just the company. Today, his company is one of the premier institutions of African-American culture and an ambassador of the shared human experience. Robert Battle, third artistic director of Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, accepted the award on his behalf.
While paying tribute to their services in Humanities, Obama told several anecdotes about the recipients while presenting them with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Obama admitted that the first record he ever purchased, Talking Book, was by Stevie Wonder and that he secretly had a crush on Meryl Streep. He said about the recipients that they were all great people who helped make America a stronger, wiser, and more humane place to live.
In the field of arts, along with Oscar winner Meryl Streep and singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder, author Isabel Allende also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Famous composer Stephen Sondheim was slated to receive an award but was unable to attend so Obama stated that he would be included in next year’s class of honorees.
Michigan Democratic Rep. John Dingell received an award and was greeted with sustained applause after gathering his strength to stand and receive his medal. Dingell will be retiring at the end of the year marking the longest tenure ever in congressional history. He fought for health care reform and stood alongside Obama when he signed the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, into law.
Ethel Kennedy, sister-in-law to former president John F. Kennedy received an award for her efforts in human rights issues. From juvenile justice to environment destruction Ethel has been a key factor in pushing for change. She challenged the president to the ice bucket challenge in support of ALS research. “You don’t mess with Ethel,” Obama said but remarking that it was one of the few times he has ever told her no.
Other notable Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients include NBC journalist Tom Brokaw, Native American activist Suzan Harjo, economist Robert Solow, physicist Mildred Desselhaus, former Rep. Abner Mikva of Illinois, golfer Charlie Sifford, and actress Marlo Thomas.
The president stated about Thomas that the reason she succeeded is because she is a giver. Obama went on to explain that Thomas’ father would say that there were two types of people in the world: givers and takers. “The takers sometimes eat better, but the givers always sleep better,” he would reveal.
President Obama opened up Thanksgiving week awarding a range of notables the Presidential Medal of Freedom paying tribute for their efforts in humanities. Obama said the event was one of his favorite events because individuals who helped advance America in some shape or form received a chance to be recognized. The recipients that gathered in the East Room of the White House to receive the award this year left the president in awe.
By Stevenson Benoit
Photo by NASA HQ Photo – Flickr License