Honoring Leadership with the Nation’s Highest Civilian Honor: The Presidential Medal of Freedom Award

On Monday, November 24th, President Barack Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom to eighteen recipients at the White House. Among the eighteen recipients were actress Meryl Streep and singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder. Composer Stephen Sondheim, the nineteenth recipient, was unable to attend, but will receive his award at the 2015 event. Six of the eighteen awards were presented posthumously, three honoring three 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,” said President Obama 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, lighthearted remarks, compliments of President Obama. Of actress Meryl 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 confessed that the first record he ever bought with his own money was by Stevie Wonder.

Sharing Ethel Kennedy’s ALS challenge to him last summer, Obama remarked, “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.”

The one-hour ceremony concluded with a charming cocktail reception for award recipients and attendees.

The following is a summary of the Presidential Medal of Freedom award recipients:

Alvin Ailey (posthumous)

Ailey was a choreographer, dancer, and the founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which is renowned for its inspiring performances in 71 countries on 6 continents since 1958.

Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende is a highly acclaimed author of 21 books that have sold 65 million copies in 35 languages.

Tom Brokaw

Tom Brokaw is one of America’s most trusted and respected journalists. Mr. Brokaw served as anchor of NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004, and is currently a Special Correspondent for NBC News.

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner (posthumous)

James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were civil rights activists and participants in “Freedom Summer,” an historic voter registration drive in 1964.

Mildred Dresselhaus

Mildred Dresselhaus is one of the most prominent physicists, materials scientists, and electrical engineers of her generation.

John Dingell

John Dingell is a lifelong public servant, the longest serving Member of Congress in American history, and one of the most influential legislators in history.

Ethel Kennedy

Ethel Kennedy has dedicated her life to advancing the cause of social justice, human rights, environmental protection, and poverty reduction by creating countless ripples of hope to effect change around the world.

Suzan Harjo

Suzan Harjo is a writer, curator, and activist who has advocated for improving the lives of Native peoples throughout her career.

Abner Mikva

Abner Mikva is a dedicated public servant who has served with distinction in all three branches of government.

Patsy Takemoto Mink (posthumous)

Patsy Takemoto Mink was a Congresswoman from Hawai’i, serving a total of 12 terms.

Edward Roybal (posthumous)

Edward R. Roybal was the first Mexican-American to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from California in nearly a century.

Charles Sifford

Charles Sifford was a professional golfer who helped to desegregate the Professional Golfers’ Association, despite harassment and death threats.

Robert Solow

Robert Solow is one of the most widely respected economists of the past sixty years.

Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep is one of the most widely known and acclaimed actors in history.

Marlo Thomas

Marlo Thomas is an award-winning actress, producer, best-selling author and social activist.

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder is one of the world’s most gifted singer-songwriters. Mr. Wonder has created a sound entirely his own, mixing rhythm and blues with genres ranging from rock and roll to reggae, and demonstrating his mastery of a range of instruments, styles, and themes.

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