President Barack Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom award on 17 “extraordinary people” in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday.
Hollywood stars, musicians, lawmakers, and athletes took center stage at the event, which honored director Steven Spielberg, singer-actress Barbra Streisand, singer James Taylor, baseballers Willie Mays and Yogi Berra (posthumous), and others for their contributions to the interests of the United States, world peace, or other significant endeavors.
“We are just reminded when we see these individuals on the stage what an incredible tapestry this country is, and what a great blessing to be in a nation where individuals as diverse, from wildly different backgrounds, can help to shape our dreams,” Obama said.
CNN reports that the celebrity honorees were prominent Obama supporters, specifically Streisand, Taylor, and Spielberg.
“Born in Brooklyn to middle class Jewish family—I didn’t know you were Jewish, Barbra,” Obama joked to Streisand, as he presented her with her award. “Barbra Streisand attended her first Broadway show at 14 and remembers thinking, ‘I could go up on that stage and play any role without any trouble at all.’ That’s what’s called chutzpah,” Obama added.
To Gloria and Emilio Estefan, the president joked, “Some worried they were too American for Latins and too Latin for Americans. Turns out everybody just wanted to dance and do the Conga.”
Obama told Spielberg, “Despite redefining the word ‘prolific,’ a Spielberg movie is still a Spielberg movie.” Then Obama joked to the famous director: “Somebody’s calling to see if they can book him for a deal right now. They want to make a pitch. So there’s this really good-looking president.”
Others receiving the nation’s highest civilian honor on Tuesday were Bonnie Carroll, Shirley Chisholm (posthumous), Billy Frank, Jr. (posthumous), Lee Hamilton, Katherine G. Johnson, Barbara Mikulski, Itzhak Perlman, William Ruckelshaus, Stephen Sondheim, and Minoru Yasui (posthumous).
Watch the video of the full ceremony below: