Ellen DeGeneres couldn’t help getting choked up as she was honored by President Barack Obama at the White House Tuesday as one of 21 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
During his remarks honoring each of the recipients, Obama reminded those present about how groundbreaking DeGeneres’ decision to come out of the closet in 1997 had been.
“It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far -- where now marriage is equal under the law -- just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago,” Obama said. “Just how important it was. Not just to the LGBT community, but for all of us.”
Then, during the actual awarding of the medal, a White House aide summarized her career, bringing tears to the “Finding Dory” star’s eyes.
“In a career spanning three decades, Ellen DeGeneres has lifted our spirits and brought joy to our lives as a stand-up comic, actor and television star,” he said. “At a pivotal moment, her courage and candor helped change the hearts and minds of millions of Americans, accelerating our nation’s constant drive towards equality and acceptance for all.”
“Ellen DeGeneres has showed us that a single individual can make the world a more fun, more open, more loving place, so long as we just keep swimming.”
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor, recognizing individuals who have made contributions to world peace, culture or other national interests. This year’s honorees also included Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert De Niro, Michael Jordan, Bill and Melinda Gates and Robert Redford.
Of course, DeGeneres almost didn’t make it to the ceremony at all, thanks to a mix-up involving her photo ID, which she made light of on Twitter.