One last time: Obama awards prez medals to Gates, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Hanks | world-news | Hindustan Times
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One last time: Obama awards prez medals to Gates, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Hanks

Basketball star Michael Jordan, actor Robert De Niro and music legend Bruce Springsteen were among the 21 people honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday.

world Updated: Nov 23, 2016 18:13 IST
AFP
US President Barack Obama presents actor Tom Hanks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony honouring 21 recipients, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC.
US President Barack Obama presents actor Tom Hanks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony honouring 21 recipients, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC.(AFP Photo)

Basketball star Michael Jordan, actor Robert De Niro and music legend Bruce Springsteen were among the 21 people honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday.

During a ceremony at the White House President Barack Obama gave out the awards -- the nation’s highest civilian honour -- for his last time to a diverse group of sports stars, scientists, artists and philanthropists.

“Everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful personal way,” Obama said. “It’s useful when you think about this incredible collection of people to realise that this is what makes us the greatest nation on earth.

“Not because of what we are, not because of our differences, but because in our difference we find something common to share.”

Obama presents Bill and Melinda Gates with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (AFP Photo)

The star-studded group included actors Tom Hanks and Robert Redford, basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, cultural icon Diana Ross and comedian and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres.

Obama with Diana Ross during the ceremony in the White House. (AP Photo)

While speaking on the accomplishments of DeGeneres, Obama lauded the comedian’s courage for coming out as gay.

“What an incredible burden that was to bear, to risk her career like that,” he said. “People don’t do that very often, and then to have the hopes of millions on your shoulders.”

Obama with actress and comedian Ellen DeGeneres. (AFP Photo)

As is his style Obama broke up the weightier moments during the ceremony with a humorous touch.

“But it’s like Ellen says: ‘We all want a tortilla chip that can support the weight of guacamole.’ Which really makes no sense to me, but I thought that would break the mood because I was getting kind of choked up.”

Obama also praised actor De Niro’s many iconic roles.

US President Barack Obama presents Robert De Niro with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (AFP Photo)

“A Sicilian father-turned-New York mobster, a mobster who runs a casino, a mobster who needs therapy,” the president read off, drawing laughter from the crowd. “A father-in-law scarier than a mobster, Al Capone, a mobster.”

De Niro has been in the spotlight recently for his candid disapproval of President-elect Donald Trump. The actor hasn’t minced words in his criticism of the Republican, describing him as “a punk”, “a pig,” and “an idiot”.

“I’d like to punch him in the face,” he said before the election.

Robert De Niro (right) hugs actress and comedian Ellen DeGeneres. (AFP Photo)

Many of the award recipients have been outspoken against Trump or have given support to Democrats.

Rocker Springsteen performed during Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s last campaign push.

US President Barack Obama looks on after presenting Bruce Springsteen with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House. (AFP Photo)

The prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom recognises achievements and contributions to US national interests, security, culture, peace and philanthropy.