In ceremonies at the East Room, the president presented the 2012 National Medal of Arts to musician Herb Alpert, philanthropist Lin Arison, dance teacher Joan Myers Brown, operatic soprano Renee Fleming, writer Ernest Gaines, artist Ellsworth Kelly, playwright Tony Kushner, writer-filmmaker Elaine May, landscape architect Laurie Olin, musician Allen Toussaint, and the Washington Performing Arts Society.
Obama presented the 2012 National Humanities Medal to University of Richmond President Edward L. Ayers, former Princeton University President William G. Bowen, writer Jill Ker Conway, historian Natalie Zemon Davis, sports writer Frank Deford, writer Joan Didion, Harvard University Professor Robert Putnam, writer Marilynne Robinson, poet Kay Ryan, New York Review of Books Editor Robert B. Silvers, actress-playwright Anna Deavere Smith, and writer-photographer Camilo Jose Vergara.
"One of the special privileges of this office is getting a chance to honor individuals who've played an important role in my life as well as in the nation's life," the president said. "And that's what today is all about -- celebrating some extraordinary men and women who've used their talents in the arts and the humanities to open up minds and nourish souls, and help us understand what it means to be human, and what it means to be an American."
Obama said the group is "pretty diverse" but they have one thing in common -- "they are teachers. Whether they realize it or not, they've taught us about ourselves and about our world."