WASHINGTON, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on 21 recipients at the White House on Tuesday.
Among the activists, scientists, philanthropists, athletes and artists honored this year were Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford, Lorne Michaels, Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross and Cicely Tyson.
Former athletes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan, as well as longtime Dodgers baseball broadcaster Vin Scully, are also being recognized, while posthumous awards are being granted to Blackfeet Tribal community leader Elouise Cobell and Rear Adm. Grace Hopper.
The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award and honors individuals who make "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
"Today we celebrate extraordinary Americans who have lifted our spirits and pushed us to progress," Obama said. "This is a particularly impressive class. We've got innovators and artists, public servants and rabble-rousers, athletes and renowned character actors."
DeGeneres became emotional receiving her medal, which followed a heartfelt introduction by the president, who praised her for what he said was a gutsy decision to come out as gay on an episode of her TV show in 1997.