Pres. Obama presents his final Medals of Freedom (Photo/Video)

Barack Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Gates, Tom Hanks
President Barack Obama greets actor Tom Hanks during a ceremony presenting Hanks with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation’s highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. Others are award recipients Ellen DeGeneres, back left to right, Bill Gates, and his wife Melinda Gates. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (AP)
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, left, arrive for a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, left, arrive for a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation’s highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Presidential Medals of Freedom are seen on a table prior to the start of the ceremony in the East Room of the White House Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, where President Barack Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Presidential Medals of Freedom are seen on a table prior to the start of the ceremony in the East Room of the White House Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, where President Barack Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation’s highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
Sports broadcaster Vin Scully, center, pauses to look at his Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. Also pictured is actor Tom Hanks, top left, singer Diana Ross, bottom left, former NBA basketball player Michael Jordan, top right, and singer songwriter Bruce Springsteen, bottom right. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Sports broadcaster Vin Scully, center, pauses to look at his Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation’s highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. Also pictured is actor Tom Hanks, top left, singer Diana Ross, bottom left, former NBA basketball player Michael Jordan, top right, and singer songwriter Bruce Springsteen, bottom right. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Barack Obama, Diana Ross
President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to singer Diana Ross during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation’s highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP)
Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
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Actress Tracee Ellis Ross at the White House. (Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
Actress Tracee Ellis Ross at the White House. (Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
Barack Obama, Ellen DeGeneres
Actress, comedian, and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, glances at President Barack Obama as she is presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation’s highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (AP)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
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Ellen DeGeneres
Actress, comedian, and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, center, wipes a tear from her eye after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP)
Actor Robert De Niro and comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres share a moment during a Presidential Medal of Freedom presentation ceremony at the White House November 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor for civilians in the United States of America.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Actor Robert De Niro and comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres share a moment during a Presidential Medal of Freedom presentation ceremony at the White House November 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor for civilians in the United States of America. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) (Getty Images/Alex Wong)
Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
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Mathematician and computer scientist Margaret Hamilton gets a kiss from actor Tom Hanks, right, after she receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Mathematician and computer scientist Margaret Hamilton gets a kiss from actor Tom Hanks, right, after she receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation’s highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP/Andrew Harnik)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
Musician Bruce Springsteen and actress Cicely Tyson share a moment. (Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
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Barack Obama, Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Former NBA basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar, left, reacts as President Barack Obama, right, attempts to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
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Robert DeNiro honored at the White House. (Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
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Bill and Melinda Gates honored at the White House. (Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
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Michael Jordan honored at the White House. (Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
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“Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels honored at the White House. (Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
Robert Redford honored at the White House. (Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
Vin Scully honored at the White House. (Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and former Attorney General Eric Holder, right, arrive for a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and former Attorney General Eric Holder, right, arrive for a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation’s highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP/Andrew Harnik)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, www.shannonfinneyphotography.com) (Courtesy Shannon Finney)
Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron, right, arrives for a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron, right, arrives for a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation’s highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,  Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, and White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice visit during the Presidential Medal of Freedom  ceremony in the East Room of the White House November 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama presented the medal to 19 living and two posthumous pioneers in science, sports, public service, human rights, politics and the arts.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, and White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice visit during the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House November 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama presented the medal to 19 living and two posthumous pioneers in science, sports, public service, human rights, politics and the arts. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) (Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)
U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to XXX during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House November 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Obama presented the medal to 19 living and two posthumous pioneers in science, sports, public service, human rights, politics and the arts.
U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House November 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Obama presented the medal to 19 living and two posthumous pioneers in science, sports, public service, human rights, politics and the arts. (Chip Somodevilla)
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Barack Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Gates, Tom Hanks
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, left, arrive for a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Presidential Medals of Freedom are seen on a table prior to the start of the ceremony in the East Room of the White House Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, where President Barack Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
Sports broadcaster Vin Scully, center, pauses to look at his Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. Also pictured is actor Tom Hanks, top left, singer Diana Ross, bottom left, former NBA basketball player Michael Jordan, top right, and singer songwriter Bruce Springsteen, bottom right. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Barack Obama, Diana Ross
Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
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(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
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Barack Obama, Ellen DeGeneres
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
Ellen DeGeneres
Actor Robert De Niro and comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres share a moment during a Presidential Medal of Freedom presentation ceremony at the White House November 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor for civilians in the United States of America.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
Mathematician and computer scientist Margaret Hamilton gets a kiss from actor Tom Hanks, right, after she receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
Barack Obama, Kareem Abdul Jabbar
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
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(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and former Attorney General Eric Holder, right, arrive for a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
(Courtesy Shannon Finney, <a href="http://www.shannonfinneyphotography.com">www.shannonfinneyphotography.com</a>)
Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron, right, arrives for a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in Washington. Obama is recognizing 21 Americans with the nation's highest civilian award, including giants of the entertainment industry, sports legends, activists and innovators. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,  Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, and White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice visit during the Presidential Medal of Freedom  ceremony in the East Room of the White House November 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. U.S. President Barack Obama presented the medal to 19 living and two posthumous pioneers in science, sports, public service, human rights, politics and the arts.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to XXX during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House November 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. Obama presented the medal to 19 living and two posthumous pioneers in science, sports, public service, human rights, politics and the arts.
November 29, 2019 | WTOP's Jason Fraley recaps the Medal of Freedom ceremony (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama hosted his final Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony Tuesday afternoon in the East Room of the White House.

Twenty-one cultural legends received the nation’s highest civilian honor.

“I always love doing this event, but this is a particularly impressive class,” President Obama said. “We’ve got innovators and artists, public servants and rabble-rousers, athletes and renowned character actors — like the guy from ‘Space Jam,'” he joked, drawing laughs from Air Jordan himself.

The president saluted each honoree one-by-one, cracking jokes and singing their praises.

Michael Jordan was honored as a six-time NBA champ and arguably the greatest athlete ever.

“When he was 5, Michael nearly cut off his big toe with an ax,” Obama said. “Air Jordans might never have taken flight! … We may never have seen him switch hands midair against the Lakers, or drop 63 in the Garden, or gut it out in the flu game, or hit ‘The Shot’ three different times: over Georgetown, over Ehlo, over Russell … or lift up the sport globally with the Dream Team. … There’s a reason you call somebody, ‘The Michael Jordan of ____.’ … Michael Jordan is the Michael Jordan of greatness.”

Tom Hanks was honored as a two-time Oscar winner across “Big” (1988), “Philadelphia” (1993), “Forrest Gump” (1994), “Apollo 13” (1995), “Toy Story” (1995) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998).

“He’s been an accidental witness to history, a crusty women’s baseball manager, an everyman who fell in love with Meg Ryan three times, made it seem natural to have a volleyball as your best friend,” Obama said. “From a Philadelphia courtroom to Normandy’s beachheads to the dark side of the moon … Tom has always saved his best roles for real life. He is a good man, the best title you can have.”

Bruce Springsteen was saluted for decades of music with his prolific and beloved E Street Band, cranking out hits from “Born to Run” to “Born in the U.S.A.,” “Dancing in the Dark” to “Glory Days.”

“He was sprung from a cage out on highway nine,” Obama said. “For decades, Bruce Springsteen has brought us all along on a journey consumed with the bargains between ambition and injustice, pleasure and pain, simple glories and scattered heartbreak of everyday life in America. … I am the president, he is The Boss. And pushing 70 [ years old], he’s still laying down four-hour live sets!”

Robert DeNiro was honored as a two-time Oscar winner from such films as “Mean Streets” (1973), “The Godfather: Part II” (1974), “Taxi Driver” (1976), “Raging Bull” (1980) and “Goodfellas” (1990).

“His characters are iconic: A Sicilian father turned New York mobster, a mobster who runs a casino, a mobster who needs therapy, a father-in-law who’s scarier than a mobster, Al Capone, a mobster,” Obama joked. “Robert DeNiro combines dramatic precision and it turns out, comedic timing. While the name DeNiro is synonymous with tough guy, his true gift is the sensitivity he brings to each role.”

Diana Ross was honored as a 12-time Grammy nominee, Oscar nominee and Motown legend.

“The Supremes earned a permanent place in the American soundtrack,” Obama said. “Along with her honey voice and her soulful sensibility, Diana exuded glamour and grace and filled stages that helped to shape the sound of Motown. … Somehow, she found time to earn an Oscar nomination for acting. Today, from the hip-hop that samples her, to the young singers who have been inspired by her, to the audiences that still can’t get enough of her, Diana Ross’ influence is as inescapable as ever.”

Cicely Tyson was a pioneering actress from “Sounder” to “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.”

“In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, she has shaped the course of Hollywood history,” Obama said. “Cicely made a conscious decision not just to say lines but to speak out. ‘I would not accept roles,’ she said, ‘Unless they projected us, especially women, in a realistic light and dealt with us as human beings.'”

Ellen DeGeneres was saluted for her hilarious comedy and her courage in the gay rights movement.

“It’s easy to forget now — when marriage is equal under the law — how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago,” Obama said. “How important it was, not just for the LGBT community, but for all of us to see somebody so full of kindness and light … challenge our own assumptions and remind us that we have more in common than we realize.”

Lorne Michaels was honored for creating sketch comedy gold on TV’s “Saturday Night Live.”

“He’s created a world where a band of no-names become comedy’s biggest stars,” Obama said. “Where our friends The Coneheads, cheerleaders, Land Sharks, basement deadbeats, motivational speakers and an unfrozen cave man lawyer show up, and Tom Hanks is on Black Jeopardy.”

Robert Redford was saluted for iconic roles in “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid” (1969), “All the President’s Men” (1976) and “The Natural” (1984), as well as directing “Ordinary People” (1980).

“When ‘The Candidate’ wins his race in the iconic 1972 film … he famously asks his campaign manager, ‘What do we do now?'” Obama said, calling it the most accurate campaign movie ever. “He created a platform for independent filmmakers with the Sundance Institute. He has supported our national parks as one of the foremost conservationists of our generation. He’s given his unmatched charisma to unforgettable characters like Roy Hobbs, Nathan Muir and of course, The Sundance Kid.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was saluted as a six-time NBA champion, 19-time All-Star and the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. But he was not only a dominant hoopster; he was also a social change agent.

“The NCAA bans the dunk! When a sport changes its rules to make it harder just for you, you are really good,” Obama said. “Kareem is more than just a pair of goggles and the sky hook. He stood up for his Muslim faith when it wasn’t easy or popular. … Physically, intellectually, spiritually, Kareem is one of a kind, an American who illuminates our most basic freedoms and our highest aspirations.”

Vin Scully was honored as arguably the most important sportscaster in baseball history for his decades of broadcasting at Los Angeles Dodgers games. Fun fact: Scully got his start at WTOP.

“The game of baseball has a handful of signature sounds: The crack of the bat, the crowd singing, the seventh-inning stretch, and the voice of Vin Scully,” Obama said. “Most fans listen to broadcasts when you can’t be at the ballpark, but generations of Dodgers fans brought their radios into the stands, because you didn’t want to miss one of Vin’s stories. … Since Jackie Robinson started at second base … he narrated the improbable years, the impossible heroics, and turned contests into conversations.”

Bill and Melinda Gates were honored for decades of philanthropy with the Gates Foundation, not to mention Gates’ technological innovations turning Microsoft into the chief rival of  Steve Jobs’ Apple.

“We came close to missing out on a Bill and Melinda Gates partnership … Apparently Bill’s opening line was, ‘Do you want to go out two weeks from this coming Saturday?'” Obama joked. “He’s good with computers, but fortunately, Melinda believes in second chances and the world is better for it.”

Rounding out the 21 recipients were architect Frank Gehry, designer Maya Lin, scientist Margaret Hamilton, physicist Richard Garwin, computer programmer Grace Hopper (posthumous), Native American advocate Elouise Cobell (posthumous), Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón, and lawyer Newt Minow, who introduced a young Barack Obama to Michelle Obama in Chicago.

“Imagine our surprise when we saw Newt, one of our bosses that summer, at the movie theater [watching] ‘Do the Right Thing.’ He’s been vital to my personal interests,” Obama said. “To think about this incredible collection of people, [we] realize this is what makes us the greatest nation on earth. Not because of our differences, but because in our differences we find something common to share.”

Now, after a divisive 2016 presidential campaign, President Obama will hand the baton to President-Elect Donald Trump. Standing in the White House, Tom Hanks offered words of hope for America.

“I grew up at a time when the streets were on fire,” Hanks said. “The ’60s and ’70s were civil rights, Vietnam, a president who kept an enemies list. … We have been through righteously tough, divisive times. And you know what we did? We went on. We moved forward, we cast our votes, we studied the issues, we held everybody accountable. … That’s going to be the American way for the next two, four, six, eight years and on down the pike. We are going to be fine — provided we all do our duty.”

Watch the full Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony here

November 29, 2019 | WTOP's Jason Fraley recaps the Medal of Freedom ceremony (Jason Fraley)

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