President Barack Obama honored 17 individuals with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday including filmmaker Steven Spielberg, actress Barbra Streisand, NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson, and baseball player Willie Mays.
“Today we celebrate some extraordinary people. Innovators, artists and leaders who contribute to America’s strength as a nation,” said Obama.
In addition, Yogi Berra, catcher for the New York Yankees who died in September, will be posthumously awarded the medal.
“One thing we know for sure: If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him,” said the President, quoting one of Berra’s famous quips. It took a few moments for the audience to get the joke.
Obama also thanked baseball player Willie Mays for personally inspiring him. “Willie also served our country: In his quiet example while excelling on one of America’s biggest stages helped carry forward the banner of civil rights,” said Obama. “It’s because of giants like Willie that someone like me could even think about running for president.”
Other honorees included singer Gloria Estefan and her husband, the music producer Emilio Estefan, singer James Taylor, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency William Ruckelshaus, and former US Representative Lee Hamilton.
“What an incredible tapestry this nation is,” said Obama. “And what a great blessing to be in a nation where individuals as diverse, from as wildly different backgrounds, can help to shape our dreams, how we live together, help define justice and freedom and love.”