Wednesday, November 25, 2015
On Tuesday President Barack Obama presented 17 Americans with the nation's highest civilian honor. USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The 17 recipients of the
Presidential Medal of Freedom this year are "extraordinary people" who have left their mark on politics, entertainment, athletics and the United States itself, President Obama said Tuesday.
Barbra Streisand to NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson to filmmaker Steven Spielberg to recently deceased baseball star Yogi Berra, Obama paid tribute to American originals with the nation's highest civilian honor during a White House ceremony.
"We celebrate artists, public servants and two legends from America's pastime," Obama said, the latter comment referring to Berra and fellow baseball Hall of Fame member
Berra, who died in September, is as known for his use of the language as well as his baseball skill, Obama said, paying tribute to the man who said "it ain't over 'til it's over." Mays, who wore a baseball cap to the ceremony, received perhaps the loudest ovation of the ceremony.
"It's because of giants like Willie that someone like me could think about running for president," said Obama, the nation's first African-American chief executive.
The honored political leaders included the late U.S. congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to mount a major presidential campaign; former congressman Lee Hamilton, who specialized in foreign affairs; and retiring
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., whom Obama described as "a lioness on Capitol Hill."
In addition to Streisand, whom Obama noted has sold more albums than any woman in history, the entertainment awards included singer
James Taylor. Obama praised Taylor as a good friend who makes listeners feel he is singing only to them.
Gloria Estefan and
Emilio Estefan won honors for pioneering the Latin-flavored fusion sound in music, while composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim "re-invented the American musical" with complex and challenging themes.
Medal recipients also included social activists like the late Billy Frank Jr., an advocate for tribal fishing rights. The late
Minoru Yasui made legal challenges to curfews imposed on Japanese-Americans during World War II.
Bonnie Carroll — whose husband,
Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, died in an Army C-12 plane crash in 1992 — founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a program to help military families who have also lost loved ones.
Johnson, the NASA mathematician, broke barriers of gender and race as she ascended to a position tracing the paths for early space flights, Obama said.
"This is an extraordinary group," Obama said, one that demonstrates "what an incredible tapestry this country is."