Obama awards Medal of Freedom to distinguished, diverse group
Talk about being in good company.
President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, considered the highest U.S. civilian honor, to 16 people on Wednesday including a celebrated scientist, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, a gay rights pioneer, and a top leader against apartheid in South Africa.
“There are many honors and privileges bestowed on the occupant of this house, but few mean as much to me as the chance to award America’s highest civilian medal to the recipients that are here today,” Obama said during a ceremony at the White House.
“This is a chance for me — and for the United States of America — to say thank you to some of the finest citizens of this country, and of all countries,” he said.
Honorees included scientist Stephen Hawking, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, deceased gay rights campaigner Harvey Milk, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
The honorees were not invited to speak during the ceremony, but one slipped in a few words anyway. Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow – High Bird, wearing a headdress of brightly colored feathers that created a challenge for the president in draping the medal around his neck, moved over to the microphones to declare the he was deeply honored. Obama, smiling, gently maneuvered him away from the podium and back towards his seat.
Other awardees included breast cancer activist Nancy G. Brinker; doctor to the homeless Pedro Jose “Joe” Greer, Jr.; sports star and former Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, now deceased; healthcare advocate and longtime Senate statesman Edward Kennedy, who was represented by his daughter; tennis great Billie Jean King; civil rights activist Reverend Joseph Lowery; acclaimed actor Sidney Poitier; actress and dancer Chita Rivera; former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson; cancer scientist Dr. Janet Davison Rowley; and microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus.
Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Obama presents Medal of Freedom)