President Barack Obama honored Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton and 14 other accomplished Americans on Wednesday at the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony.
“This is one of my favorite events every year,” Obama said. “This year it’s just a little more special, because this marks the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy establishing this award.”
Obama praised Winfrey, one of his most prominent supporters, for spreading the message that “you can.” He said she had climbed from poverty to the pinnacle of entertainment, and joked about something they have in common.
“Early in Oprah Winfrey‘s career, her bosses told her she should change her name to Suzy,” Obama said. “I have to pause here to say I got the same advice.”
Obama awarded Clinton for his humanitarian efforts, noting his efforts to lead relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, and the 2011 tsunami that swept through Japan.
“I’m grateful for the advice and counsel you offered me on and off the golf course, and most importantly, your lifesaving work all around the world,” Obama said. “Thank you so much, President Clinton.”
The award recognizes “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.”
Other recipients this year include former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee; women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem; the late Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut to travel in space; Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks; the late Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI); country music star Loretta Lynn; former Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN); cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman; chemist and environmental scientist Mario Molina; the late civil rights activist Bayard Rustin; jazz musician Arturo Sandoval; basketball coach Dean Smith; civil rights leader Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian; and appellate judge Patricia Wald.