The White House saw stars on Tuesday as more than 20 famous names — including Michael Jordan, Bruce Springsteen, Vin Scully, Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Diana Ross and many others — gathered to be honored by President Obama in his final Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony.
Obama said this year’s picks for the nation’s highest civilian honor were “personal,” telling the audience, “Everybody that is on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, personal way, in ways that they probably couldn’t imagine.”
“These are folks who helped make me who I am and think about my presidency,” Obama said.
The commander in chief struggled in physically presenting some of the award recipients with their medals. Diana Ross’s massive hairdo slowed down the president as he attempted to put a medal around her neck.
And basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who stands 7 feet 2 inches tall, towered over Obama and leaned back to assist him during his award presentation. Obama, who’s 6 feet 1 inch, had a similar issue with the 6-foot-6-inch Jordan.
Earlier in the East Room ceremony, Obama had poked fun at the Chicago Bulls superstar, saying there were a lot of impressive people on stage with him. There are “renowned character actors, like the guy from ‘Space Jam,’” Obama quipped of Jordan’s 1996 zany, kid-friendly flick.
Ellen DeGeneres, who earlier in the day tweeted that she had forgotten her ID and was unable to enter the White House, managed to make it into the ceremony after all. Obama praised DeGeneres in his remarks, saying many forget “just how much courage was required to come out on the most public of stages.” The daytime talk show host appeared visibly emotional after accepting her medal, wiping away tears from her eyes.
Chants of “Bruuuuuce!” could be heard from the crowd as Springsteen approached Obama. “I am the president,” Obama said of the E Street frontman, “but he is The Boss.”
Other recipients of the Medal of Freedom included “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels, actor/director Robert Redford, actress Cicely Tyson, actor Tom Hanks, Bill and Melinda Gates, physicist Richard Garwin, architect Frank Gehry, NASA scientist Margaret H. Hamilton, artist Maya Lin, attorney Newt Minow and educator Eduardo Pardon.
Posthumous awards were given to Native-American advocate Elouise Cobell and software engineer Grace Hopper.
Many of the honorees and their family members had a little fun before the main event, participating in a "mannequin challenge" inside the White House.
An array of administration officials, celebs and lawmakers were eyed in the audience at the ceremony: Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) was seen chatting briefly with DeGeneres; Rita Wilson, there to support husband Hanks, shared a laugh with Secretary of State John KerryJohn Kerry Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington Biden confirms 30 percent global methane reduction goal, urges 'highest possible ambitions' 9/11 and US-China policy: The geopolitics of distraction MORE and Vice President Biden; Ashlee Simpson and husband Evan Ross, Ross’s son, brought their baby daughter; and Sens. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBiden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict Senate Democrats to Garland: 'It's time to end the federal death penalty' Hillicon Valley: Cryptocurrency amendment blocked in Senate | Dems press Facebook over suspension of researchers' accounts | Thousands push back against Apple plan to scan US iPhones for child sexual abuse images MORE (D-Del.) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinManchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema US gymnasts offer scathing assessment of FBI MORE (D-Ill.).