Rolling Out

Michael Jordan, Cicely Tyson honored by President Obama

Photo: A.R. Shaw
Photo: A.R. Shaw for Steed Media

President Barack Obama held the final Medal of Freedom ceremony of his administration. Rolling out was on hand at the White House as individuals such as Cicely Tyson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Diana Ross, Robert De Niro, Bruce Springsteen and others the Medal of Freedom.

“Today, we celebrate extraordinary Americans who have lifted our spirits, strengthened our union, pushed us toward progress,” President Obama said in his opening speech. “I always love doing this event, but this is a particularly impressive class. We’ve got innovators and artists. Public servants, rabble rousers, athletes, renowned character actors — like the guy from Space Jam. [Laughter.] We pay tribute to those distinguished individuals with our nation’s highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

President Obama took a moment to share the personal and professional stories of each honoree. “Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, she has shaped the whole course history,” President Obama said. “Cicely was never the likeliest of Hollywood stars. The daughter of immigrants from the West Indies, she was raised by a hardworking and religious mother who cleaned houses and forbade her children to attend the movies. But once she got her education and broke into the business, Cicely made a conscious decision not just to say lines, but to speak out.”

When speaking of Abdul-Jabbar, the president pointed out his accolades on the court and social activism off the court. “But the reason we honor Kareem is more than just a pair of goggles and the skyhook,” said President Obama. “He stood up for his Muslim faith when it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t popular. He’s as comfortable sparring with Bruce Lee as he is advocating on Capitol Hill or writing with extraordinary eloquence about patriotism. Physically, intellectually, spiritually — Kareem is one-of-a-kind — an American who illuminates both our most basic freedoms and our highest aspirations.”

President Obama spoke of Jordan’s overall excellence in sports and business. “He’s more than a logo, more than just an Internet meme.  (Laughter.)  More than just a charitable donor or a business owner committed to diversity,” President Obama said. “There is a reason you call someone ‘the Michael Jordan of’ — Michael Jordan of neurosurgery, or the Michael Jordan of rabbis, or the Michael Jordan of outrigger canoeing — and they know what you’re talking about. Because Michael Jordan is the Michael Jordan of greatness. He is the definition of somebody so good at what they do that everybody recognizes them.”

President Obama took a moment to honor Diana Ross by saying, “On top of becoming one of the most successful recording artists of all time, raised five kids — somehow found time to earn an Oscar nomination for acting. Today, from the hip-hop that samples her, to the young singers who’ve been inspired by her, to the audiences that still cannot get enough of her — Diana Ross’ influence is inescapable as ever.”

After placing medals around each recipient, President Obama closed his speech by revealing how each person inspired him. “Part of the reason that these events are so special to me is because everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, personal way — in ways that they probably couldn’t imagine,” President Obama said. “Whether it was having been inspired by a song, or a game, or a story, or a film, or a monument, these are folks who have helped make me who I am and think about my presidency, and what also makes them special is, this is America.”

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Photos: A.R. Shaw

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