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Obama Awards Medal of Freedom to final class of recipients as Ellen Degeneres weeps

buzzz worthy. . .

By Mona Austin

Photos: Getty
Basketball legends Kareem Abdul Jabar and Michael Jordan were not the only giants standing tall at the White House on Tuesday, November 27.  President Barack Obama awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to the two athletes and 19 other giants in the fields of entertainment, science, technology, humanitarianism, and music.  Among those who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Diana Ross,Tom Hanks, Grace Hopper, Frank Gehry, Cicely Tyson, Newt Minow, Robert De Niro, Dick Garwin, Margaret Heafield Hamilton, Bruce Springsteen, Eloise Cobell, Lorne Michaels, Bill and Melinda Gates, Vin Scully, Grace Murray Hopper, Ellen Degeneres, Eduardo Padron and Robert Redford. Including this final class, Pres. Obama has recognized more people with the Medal of Freedom than any other preseident, presenting a total of 123.

After 8 years in office Obama, dubbed the "rock Star"president early on,  has become friends with many of the celebs in the room through their support of his administration.  The intimate and emotional spirit at the ceremony was a welcome reprive from the solemn tone the recent election has cast over Washington.

Speaking from the East Room of the White House, the president said this group of inductees touched his life personally.

“Everyone on this stage has touched me in a powerful personal way. These are folks who have helped make me who I am and think about my presidency.”

Many of the recipients supported programs and ideas Obama championed as president. 

Before the ceremony, one of honorees' patience was tested.

It was no laughing matter when TV Host/Comic Degeneres, 53, was stalled at the White House gate. She'd left her I.D. and the FBI forced her to wait until a higher up cleared her for entry. Once inside she led the group in an epic Mannequin Challenge.

Mr. Obama is a strong supporter of gay rights, which directly affects Degeneres who was the sole honoree representing the LGBT community this year.  The openly gay star wept as Pres. Obama placed the medal around her neck and an announcer said, "Again and again, Ellen DeGeneres has shown us that a single individual can make the world a more fun, more open, more loving place so long as we just keep swimming.”

Below are remarks President Obama made about the contribitions of some of the 2016 Medal of Honor recipients:

Robert DeNiro
Robert combines dramatic precision and, it turns out, comedic timing with his signature eye for detail.  And while the name De Niro is synonymous with "tough guy," his true gift is the sensitivity that he brings to each role. 

Margaret Heafield Hamilton
A pioneer in technology, Margaret Hamilton defined new forms of software engineering and helped launch an industry that would forever change human history.  Her software architecture led to giant leaps for humankind, writing the code that helped America set foot on the moon.  

Cicely Tyson
In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, she has shaped the whole course history.  Cicely was never the likeliest of Hollywood stars.  The daughter of immigrants from the West Indies, she was raised by a hardworking and religious mother who cleaned houses and forbade her children to attend the movies.  But once she got her education and broke into the business, Cicely made a conscious decision not just to say lines, but to speak out. 

Dick Garwin
Dick's not only an architect of the atomic age.  Ever since he was a Cleveland kid tinkering with his father's movie projectors, he's never met a problem he didn't want to solve.  Reconnaissance satellites, the MRI, GPS technology, the touchscreen all bear his fingerprints.

Bill and Melinda Gates
These two have donated more money to charitable causes than anyone, ever.  Many years ago, Melinda's mom told her an old saying: "To know that even one life has breathed easier because you lived -- that is success."  By this and just about any other measure, few in human history have been more successful than these two impatient optimists.

Diana Ross
Along with her honey voice, her soulful sensibility, Diana exuded glamour and grace that filled stages that helped to shape the sound of Motown.  On top of becoming one of the most successful recording artists of all time, raised five kids -- somehow found time to earn an Oscar nomination for acting. 

Elouise Cobell
When Elouise Cobell first filed a lawsuit to recover lands and money for her people, she didn't set out to be a hero.  She said, "I just wanted…to give justice to people that didn't have it."  And her lifelong quest to address the mismanagement of American Indian lands, resources, and trust funds wasn't about special treatment, but the equal treatment at the heart of the American promise.  She fought for almost 15 years -- across three Presidents, seven trials, 10 appearances before a federal appeals court.  All the while, she traveled the country some 40 weeks a year, telling the story of her people.  And in the end, this graduate of a one-room schoolhouse became a MacArthur Genius.  

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 
Here's how great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was:  1967, he had spent a year dominating college basketball, the NCAA bans the dunk.  They'd didn’t say it was about Kareem, but it was about Kareem.  (Laughter.)  When a sport changes its rules to make it harder just for you, you are really good.  (Laughter and applause.)  And yet despite the rule change, he was still the sport's most unstoppable force.  It's a title he'd hold for more than two decades, winning NBA Finals MVPs a staggering 14 years apart. 

Bruce Springsteen
"The hallmark of a rock and roll band," Bruce Springsteen once said, is that "the narrative you tell together is bigger than anyone could have told on your own. . .I am the president, but her is The Boss."