US President Barack Obama has “choked up” while presenting the nation’s highest civilian honour to comedian Ellen DeGeneres during a ceremony at the White House.
DeGeneres was one of 21 actors, musicians, athletes and innovators who Mr Obama said inspired him over the years and “helped make me who I am”.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom recognises especially meritorious contributions to the national interests of the United States, its security and its culture.
Mr Obama heaped praise on DeGeneres, saying it was easy to forget that she had risked her career in 1997 when she came out as gay.
“It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far … just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago,”
“What an incredible burden that was to bear — to risk your career like that — people don’t do that very often. And then, to have the hopes of millions on your shoulders.”
Mr Obama then used one of the comedian’s jokes to cover for the fact he was getting emotional during the ceremony.
“But it’s like Ellen says, ‘we all want a tortilla chip that can support the weight of guacamole’. Which really makes no sense to me,” he said.
“But I thought I would break the mood, because I was getting choked up.”
Michael Jordan, Presidential Medal of Freedom, November 22, 2016.
“MJ is more than just a logo. He’s more than just an internet meme,” President Barack Obama said before presenting Michael Jordan with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (AP: Andrew Harnik)
2016 group a ‘particularly impressive class’
It was the last time Mr Obama will present the award as his eight years in office comes to an end in January.
“Everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, personal way, in ways that they probably couldn’t imagine,” Mr Obama said in concluding the hour-long ceremony.
Mr Obama called the 2016 group a “particularly impressive class”.
In the film world, Mr Obama honoured Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford and Cicely Tyson.
Basketballers Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were also among the honourees. Mr Obama noted how Jordan’s name is synonymous with excellence.
“There is a reason you call somebody ‘the Michael Jordan of’,” Mr Obama said.
“The Michael Jordan of neurosurgery, or the Michael Jordan of rabbis, or the Michael Jordan of outrigger canoeing. Everyone knows what you’re talking about.”
Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross were recognised for their music.
Mr Obama said Springsteen crafted “anthems of our America, the reality of who we are and the reverie of who we want to be”.
Other honourees included philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates and broadcaster Vin Scully.
The diverse group seemed to enjoy themselves at the White House, participating in a mannequin challenge before the ceremony, trying not to move as they were recorded on video.
Mr Obama said the people receiving the medal helped push America forward and inspired millions around the world.
The White House said the President and his staff spend time considering a variety of candidates for the award, but ultimately, it was the President’s decision.
Watch video of the event below