Covering Washington politics. From our vantage point. One day a time.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Medal of Freedom Awards 2013

This year's group of the Presidential Medal of Free Awards read like a Who's Who of sports, entertainment, music, medicine, and media.

Sixteen individuals, each accomplished in their own right, took the stage with President Obama as he read each name out loud, highlighting their incredible journeys that got them to their life stations.

Oprah Winfrey, former president Bill Clinton, Arturo Sandoval, Ernie Banks, Gloria Steinem, country music singer, Loretta Lynn, and others, rounded out this group of talented individuals.

The president joked about how he and Oprah's names, at first, weren't accepted as 'status quo' by those less understanding of people's differences.

"She was told she should change her name to Susie", he said recalling the time early in her journalism career where her employer also told her she was "too funny looking" for TV. (We're sure he's eaten crow several times over).

In a world where acceptance and tolerance has increasingly become the new social norm, there were honorees representing the LGBT communities:  Bayard Rustin, orchestrator of the historic civil rights March on Washington. Sally Ride, the first female astronaut to travel to space.  Both awarded posthumously, with their awards accepted by their partners.

Even though this day was a day of being awarded the highest honor presented to an American citizen, there were those who felt like they were no bigger on this day, than they were any other day of their lives.

President Obama with the 2013 Medal of Freedom recipients in the East Room. Photo/ CD Brown.

"What did I do? What did I do?"  That was the question by baseball legend Ernie Banks when we asked if he thought of himself as a role model.  The humbled honoree said he thought it was better to "be nice to people."

"This is a great world", Mr. Banks said as he lavished in all the media attention he was receiving, granting interviews to all who asked.  "It really is. I'm just glad to be here, in Washington", the famed Cub star said.

Flipping the script on children who would ask him for autographs, Mr. Banks said he often asks the children for their autographs instead. 

"They are the future", he said. 

Banks is working with the president on making sure more kids become interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) subjects.

When it comes to modern day women's rights issue, Gloria Steinem may come to the minds of many.  While she also tells us she's 'no role model', she's delighted that the women's movement has forged a path for others.

"There may be pieces of what I've done that were helpful", said Steinem in our interview with her. "Who would have thought that a little girl like Oprah could watch Barbara Walters on TV and say 'I want to do that?"

[Click here for Steinem's story.  (Our interview)].

Other honorees included North Carolina University's basketball coach to Michael Jordan, Dean Smith, Mario Molina, Daniel Inoye (also posthumously), Indiana Representative Richard Lugar, civil rights activist and minster, C.T. Vivian, former president Bill Clinton, and Daniel Kahneman.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom, established 50 years ago by President John F. Kennedy, is the nation’s highest civilian honor. The medal has been presented to more than 500 individuals who have made especially “meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

Said the president of the honorees,

"That’s who we are. A people whose greatness comes not by settling for what we can achieve in our own lives, but also because we dare to ask what we can do, as citizens, to contribute to this grand experiment we call America."

We'd like to include life, and living, to that 'grand experiment' as well.

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