Comedian Ellen DeGeneres was on Wednesday awarded the Presidential medal of freedom by US President Barack Obama.
The President showered praise on her for influencing the gay rights movement in America.
The Presidential medal of freedom, which recognizes contributions to United States culture, security and international interests, is America’s highest civilian honor and other celebrities including Robert De Niro, Micheal Jordan, and Tom Hanks also took home medals. There were 21 recipients in total.
A White House aide first summarized DeGeneres’s career, and as he spoke, he noted her courage in coming out during a time when marriage equality was not prevalent in the U.S., which aided the progress of LGBT equality. He said;
“In a career spanning three decades, Ellen DeGeneres has lifted our spirits and brought joy to our lives as a stand-up comic, actor and television star.”
President Obama speaking about Ellen DeGeneres said that it was easy to forget the risk she took to come out as gay in 1997. He said the bravery that she displayed then helped to “push our country in the direction of justice”. He continued;
“It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far… just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago,”
“What an incredible burden that was to bear – to risk your career like that – people don’t do that very often. And then, to have the hopes of millions on your shoulders.”
Speaking in a broader sense that captured all 21 recipients of the award, President Obama said that they all had made him who he is. In his words;
“These are folks who have helped make me who I am, …Everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, personal way, in ways that they probably couldn’t imagine.”
Musicians Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross were also honored as well as Bill and Melinda Gates, who were awarded for their philanthropic work through their charitable foundation.
Ellen DeGeneres almost missed the ceremony entirely when security personnel refused to let her into the White House because she forgot her ID. As President Obama bestowed DeGeneres with the medal, however, the comedian teared up.