Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony

Distinguished Americans receive nation's highest civilian honor.
46:42 | 11/24/14

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Transcript for Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony
Us and you're looking at a live picture from the White House. As President Obama is about to honor are a long list of people with the nation's highest civilian honor the medal of freedom. Including an Oscar winner Oscar winning actress three slain martyrs of the civil rights movement and a former network news anchor and journalist. Hello everyone I'm Michelle Frandsen in New York in the ceremony at the White House is getting under way let's listen it. I work hard play down. Charles Stafford. Robert and so luck. Meryl Streep. Mar low Thomas. Steve Glenn Moore is also known as Stevie Wonder it. Ladies and gentlemen the president of the United States and mrs. Michelle Obama. Nobody. By Edison. Well welcome the White House. Have all my favorite events. Once a year and we set aside. This event. Celebrate people who have made America stronger. And wiser. And more humane. And more beautiful. With our highest civilian off the presidential medal of freedom. This year we honor eighteen. Unfortunately Stephen Sondheim could not be with us today I'm gonna be presenting him what this award at our 2015 ceremony. We give thanks to public servants who have devoted their lives. To their fellow citizens. When. And we're roar of all told speaker Tip O'Neill but he was starting a congressional Hispanic caucus the result few Hispanics in congress the tip joked. Figure fit the whole caucus in a phone book. But Edwards saw beyond the trials. As a congressman from Los Angeles for thirty years he fought for bilingual education and bilingual proceedings in our judicial system. And to make sure Hispanic Americans count literally. Thanks to him to cough the census was revised to more accurately count Latinos. Although his roots in America went back hundreds of years he championed the cause of immigrants and spoke up for vulnerable communities. And wasn't one of the few in the early 1980s. Calling for more aids research. He left us nearly a decade ago but that work for ball was and remains a hero to so many not just Latinos but. All Americans. Every girl in Little League every woman playing college sports and every parent including Michelle and myself who watches their daughter on the field or. In the classroom is. Forever grateful to the late. Pepsi. Talk Comodo make. I'm particularly grateful for shoes my congressman for a long. Denied admission to medical school because she was a woman. Patsy went on to law school and co authored title nine. Banning gender discrimination in our schools. Captures many. Firsts including the first woman of color in congress. And to those of us and why she represented the very best of public service and the O Hospira. And if she was a first she dedicated her life to making sure that she would not be the last. From championing civil rights to fighting for gender fighting against gender discrimination. That's it was a passionate advocate for opportunity and equality. And realizing the full promise of the American. When John singles father a new deal Democrat. Passed away in 1955. John stepped up. And over the course of six decades. They congressional career longer than any in history. John built a peerless record of his own. He gaveled in the vote for Medicare. Helped lead the fight for the Civil Rights Act. For more than half a century and every single congress John introduced a bill for comprehensive health care. That is until he divested during war. I could not have been prouder to have done by my side when I signed the Affordable Care Act in the law. John that will retire at the end of this session but at 88 he's still going strong. In his life reminds us that change takes time it takes courage and persistence. But if we push hard enough and long enough changes pots. As a University of Chicago student Abner make must stop by the local democratic headquarters and asked to volunteer. I love this story committed the mass. Who sent you. And apps that nobody and the commitments. We don't want nobody nobody sent. As Chicago forward. Despite that it brought to his dismissal. Ab went on to us. Devote his life to public service reform bill nor criminal coat defended free speech and consumer rights in 1993 stock down. Struck down the Pentagon's ban on gays in the military. He was overturned on that one but. History proved them right. And he inspired the next generation including me. After I graduated from law school we are for me the chance to be as law clerk. I declined but was extraordinarily grateful and he forgave me. For which I was also grateful. That transcends any single moment a recent political history but he had. A hand in shaping some of the best of so we've got some extraordinary public servants. On this stage. We also give thanks for innovators. Who changed our world. Mildred Russell houses. High school yearbook. Contained. Commentary from her classmates that for today. Mathematical tribute aunt Mildred equals brains plus one. In math and science she second to month. Growing up in New York during the Great Depression this daughter polish immigrants have three clear paths open to were. Teaching nursing and secretarial school. Somehow shift something else in mind. Jimmy gave electrical engineer. In a physicist. And rollers in MIT's ranks performing groundbreaking experiments on apartment became one of the world's most celebrated sciences. And her influences all around us in the cars we drive the energy we generate. An electronic devices the power lines. When she arrived at MIT in 1960. Only 4% of students were women. Today almost half or a new generation walking path no we boys. Robert solos father was a businessman who had a lot of documents and when Robert became an economist is dead joked. We do the same fact deliver papers. But Bob's influence extends far beyond the page more than just about any living economist he has shaped economic policy and whether the lives of people every work. His insights in the how technological progress drives growth transformed our thinking about how to build prosperity. Leading to more investments in research and education. In other words more investments in people. When he won the Nobel Prize the colleague wrote economists. Faces lit up all over the world. And this isn't exactly yeah irrationally exuberant group cops there are usually get real fired up. But Bob isn't just admired by his peers he is adored and he continues to be a leading voice on the economic challenges of our times. Especially when it comes to reversing income inequality in growing the economy forever but. Always pushing our nation do better. For everybody. For all. So we give thanks to public service we give thanks to innovators and we give thanks to performance of captivated our hearts in our minds. The idea and once ran this have one. Court rules of Merrill Streep and able to be tried by jury as she has no peers. I think like goat herder for the war Merrill's gotten. Since I've been in office. And and I've set a public great I love Merrill street I love her. Her husband knows I lover. Michelle knows however that. Of them can do about it. But she's got it all fur craft. She sung Alba. Which will. That's something. We learned the violin. She wore a nun's habit trays about a charging why am. Mastered every accent. Under the sun. She inhabits her characters so fully income passionately saying if the greatest gift of human beings that we have this power of empathy. And off the screen as an advocate for women and girls she uses that give to help others. Right the life stories of their choosing and to encourage greater empathy in the rest of us. So Merrill was truly one of American League office. Another Stevie. Don't get Michelle talking about Stevie Wonder. Early copies of Stevie wonders classic album talking book. Had a simple message written in braille. Here is my music it is all I have to telling you how I feel. Know that your love keeps my love strong. This is by the way the first album I ever bought my own money. As ten years old. Maybe eleven. What mile cash. I'd have a lot of and I listened to evaporate that thing got so worn out had all scratches the young people you'll remember this but you'd have albums. They get stretched. For more than fifty years Stevie is channeled his inner visions and messages of hope and healing. And becoming one of the most influential musicians in American history. A musical project we've been electrifying bower voice Steve is blend of R&B and jazz and funk and blues and soul and whatever else you got. Speaks of love and loss justice and equality. Worn piece. About what really defines TV's music is the warmth and humanity that resonates in every known. Some of those songs helped us to fall in love. Others mended our hearts. Some motivated us on the campaign trail. Banks to Stevie all of us have been moved to higher ground. Alvin Ailey. Was born during the depression and small town Texas and by the time he was 47 who founded a dance company of his own in New York City. It became a place where artists of all races had a home all the mattered was tell. The dances he choreographed wore a blend of ballet modern and jazz and they used the blues and spiritual as well. And threw him African American history was told that way than ever been told before. With passion. Virtual so dance performances that transfixed audiences worldwide. Alvin said that dance. Came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people. Now they only delivered both through his life and through the dance company the wall forever bear his name. When it's up those high end they learned that her grandfather in Chile was dying she started writing him a letter night after night. She returned to it until she realized. She was actually writing her personal. She never really stopped. Novels and memoirs tell a family's magic romance. Oppression. Violence. Redemption. Big stuff. But in her hands and big became grasp aboard familiar and human. The next solved from Chile by a Miller military went she made the US are home. Today the foundation she created to honor her late daughter help spammers worldwide. She begins all her books on January 8 the day she began that letter to her grandfather years ago. Right to register history she says. Right what should not be forgotten. On the night of the Berlin Wall fell only one American network anchor was there reporting live. Reporter remembers Ben Bradley standing in the post news room watching Tom Brokaw at the Brandenburg Gate and wondering aloud. Now we meet debt. Brokaw's got bets. A pivotal moments. Tom got. He reported on Watergate. Sucker Cameron to Tiananmen square. Sat down for the first one on one when Mikhail Gorbachev by an American TV reporter. Covered every presidential election since 1968. We've welcomed him into our home dinnertime and sun Sunday mornings. We've trusted him to tell us what we needed to know and to ask questions that needed to ask. I know because I've been on the receiving end of some those questions. Many of him no are. You may know him as the chronicler of the greatest generation and today we celebrate him as one of our nation's greatest troubles. And we give thanks. To trailblazers. Who bent beer are coronation. Towards justice. Tonight in the 1950s golfer Charlie Sifford won the negro national open five times in a row. But by the time he became the first African American to earn a PGA tour part most of his best golf was behind. On the tour Charlie was sometimes banned from clubhouse restaurants. Folks threatened him shouted slurs from the gallery kicked his ball into the rough. Prince Charlie welcome of them my balls always in the am because golf can be assaults are sport Charlie didn't have teammates to lean on. But he did have his lovely wife rose. And he had plenty of guts and grit and that trademark cigar in Charlie one on the work twice both after the age of 45. But it was never just about the winds as Charlie says I wasn't just trying to do this for me I was trying to do it for the world. Speaking of trailblazers. To some Marleau Thomas will always be that girl. Who followed her dreams to New York City and was run around man. Having fun. On her own terms. To others she. She's very creative mind behind free to be you and me. Whose songs taught a generation of kids that they were strong and beautiful just the way they work. As a founder of the ms. foundation morrow helped turn women's hopes and aspirations in the country's social and economic progress. And she's helped build the hospital her father founded saint Jude's into one of the premier Peter at pediatric hospitals in the world. Your calls or dad saying there are two types of people in the world the givers and the takers. Takers sometimes eat better but there givers always sleep that I loved that thing. Marla Thomas sleeps very well. Fish is given so much. Raised on an Oklahoma reservation by a shy and mother and a adult day from Skokie. Father. Suzanne shown heart Joseph grew up to become one of the most effective advocates for native American rights. Sure worked in government and as the head of the national congress have been American Indians and the morning star institute she is helped preserve. A million acres of Indian life. Help develop laws preserving tribal sovereignty. She's repatriated sacred cultural items to tribes while expanding museums to celebrate native life. Because Suzanne more young native Americans are growing up with pride in their heritage and with faith and their future and she's taught all of us. That native values make American strong. I'm June 41. 19643. Young Matt. Two white and one black. Set out to learn more about the burning of a church in the schober counting Mississippi. James Earl Chaney 21 years old. Andrew good twenty years. Michael Henry shore. Point four years old. Young men. And that freedom summer these three Americans refuse to sit on the sidelines. They're brutal murder by a Gainer of Ku Klux Klan members shook the conscience of our nation. Took 44 days to find the bodies. 41 years to bring the lead perpetrated justice. And while there are often remembered for how they died we honor them today for how they lived. With the idealism and the courage. Of youth. James Andrews and Michael could not have known the impact there would have on the civil rights moment or on future generations. And here today it's fire rather sacrifice we continue to fight for the ideals of equality and justice which they gave their lives. Today we are honored to be joined by James is daughter Angela Andrew's brother David and Michael's wife Rita. And finally we give thanks to a person whose love for her family is matched by her devotion. To her nation. Most Americans Ethel Kennedy is known as a wife mother engram off. In many ways is through these roles that she's made her mark on history. As Bobby Kennedy is partner in life she shared his commitment to justice. After his death she continued their work through the senator she created in his name. Celebrating activists and journalists and educating people around the world about threats to human liver. On urgent human rights issues of our time from juvenile justice to environmental destruction. Apple has been a force for change and are quiet flashy. And flashing unstoppable way. As for family will tell you and they basically occupied this half of. You don't mess without. She's gone to extraordinary likes to build support for the causes close to her heart including helping to raise money for. LS research this summer by pouring a bucket of ice water over her head. As you may know she nominated me to do it was as well and as you may know I chose to write a check and spent. Are broken why I don't like pouring ice water. Top of my head. That is pride going dumber than known apple by. Ethel is the matriarch of a patriotic family and where her encouragement many of her children and grandchildren are carrying on. The Kennedy tradition of public service. She's an emblem of and during faith and and during hope even in the face of unimaginable loss and unimaginable we're. And she has touched the lives of countless people. Around the world we have her generosity. And her race. It gives me great pleasure to present this award which. Her brother in law president Kennedy reestablish more than fifty years ago. Ladies and job. These are the recipients of the 2014. Medal of freedom let's give them a big crowd. All. Well you don't just yet applause yes we get a medal. The let's read the citations. Robert battle. Receiving on behalf of Alvin Elie. The visionary choreographer and dancer. Alvin Ailey transformed American dance through his groundbreaking exploration of the African American experience. Leaving traditional songs and stories without ballet jazz and modern dance to create something entirely new. He founded and served as artistic director at the Alvin Ailey American dance theater renowned worldwide effort soulful virtuoso performances. Including me a beloved American masterpiece revelations. An advocate for the importance of art to the soul of our nation. Alvin daily life in pioneering legacy remind us of our limitless potential for creative self expression. Isabel I ND. A beloved daughter she lay in the United States Isabel Allende has transfixed readers worldwide for extraordinary story telling. Forced to flee chilling after the overthrow of her cousin president Salvador Allende she spent years have brought filling her books with the stories residents and flavors come. She's now one of the most threatening red and cherish Spanish language doctors in history. She also rates and speaks forcefully about the human rights of women and children and her foundation supports vulnerable families in Chile and California. With creativity and conviction Isabel Allende continues to move and delight the world. Okay. Thomas. One of our nation's most admired journalist Thomas. From today to NBC nightly news to Meet the Press Americans have relied on his authoritative reporting think he analysis for decades. Had moments of great consequence from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 he was our nation's eyes and ears at the scene. He is lent his voice to our nation's spirits from the greatest generation to the latest generation of service members and their families. Thomas. Angelo Louis proceeding on behalf of her father James Earl Chaney. David Goodman receiving on behalf of his brother Andrew Goodman. And Rita Schwerner Bender receiving on behalf of her husband Michael Henry Schwerner. In 196. It 43 young men sought to write one of the many wrongs of the Jim Crow era by joining hundreds of others to register black voters in Mississippi during freedom center. Their work was fraught with danger yet her commitment to justice was so strong that they are willing to risk their lives for. Their deaths shocked the nation and their courage has never been forgotten. James Earl Chaney Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner still inspire us. They're ideals have been written into the moral fabric of our nation from the landmark civil rights legislation enacted days after their deaths. To our continued pursuit of a more perfect union. The honorable John. John. A child at the house he became its dean and his legacy is evident all around us in cleaner air safer water. Stronger protections for workers and greater respects for the civil rights of all Americans. He summoned his grit and determination for legislative battles over health care for Medicare if the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to his efforts millions more families across our nation now have the peace of mind that comes with access to quality affordable care. A grateful nation honors John. Mildred S special house. Mildred S Tressel house has helped uncover the mysteries of our world. One of the most distinguished business physicist materials scientist and electrical engineers of her generation. For experiments into the conductivity and semi metals transformed our understanding of these materials leading to breakthroughs in modern electronics. Her pioneering research on manatees has had implications across the economy from electronics to energy storage to automated parts. As a leader and mentor she has inspired countless women to pursue opportunities in physics and engineering. Mildred has stressed the houses example is a testament to what we can achieve when we summon the courage to follow our curiosity and our dreams. Suzanne shown heart Joseph. Suzanne shown heart Joseph is a poet writer curator an advocate dedicated to the dignity of all people. The Shea an Angel told the Muskogee and a citizen officially NN arapahoe tracks she's fought all her life for the human civil and treaty right at native peoples. As the head of the national congress is American Indians president of the morning star institute. And a founding trustee of the national museum of the American industry Indian. Her tireless efforts have projected need culture return native lands and improved native lives. With soldiers off Suzanne shown her Joseph pushes us to go we seek justice in our time. And. Bill Kennedy. Ethel Kennedy's life is a story of perseverance and generosity. A tireless advocate for the causes she holds dear. She founded the Robert F Kennedy center for justice and human rights where she dances her husband's vision and challenges us to a managed in the world as it should be. Whether on gun control environmental protection human rights or public health. She tackles difficulty she is with a relentless drive in inspires those around her to do the same. In Ethel Kennedy who find the strength resilience and passion that are at the heart of the American spirit. The honorable Abner nick. One of the greatest jurist of his time. Abner Mikva built his career on reference for the law. Commitment to public service and love for Chicago. As a congressman federal judge and counsel to President Clinton he has set he helped shape the national debate on some of the most challenging issues of the day. Always insisting that government live up to its responsibilities to citizens. He has imparted his sense of civic duty to a new generation. From shaping legal minds as a law professor to challenging young people to give back to their communities through public service. Thanks to Abner Mikva our laws and our nation are more fair and he would. Wendy mink. Receiving on behalf of her mother the honorable patsy a kimono make. Patsy tucked Comodo mink was ahead of her time. The first woman of color elected to congress she entered office determined to do all she could to ensure equal treatment for every American. Regardless of race or sex. She co author title nine of the education amendment of 1970 to you guaranteeing equal educational opportunities for women. She was a forceful advocate for civil rights legislation before sensible and the Vietnam War. She serves her beloved Hawaii with integrity and grace all of an American TrailBlazer. Patsy to kimono mink helped build a nation that lives up to its promise and her example challenges us to make progress in our time. The honorable Lucille what it'll Allard receiving on behalf of the honorable Edward. Edward. He served in the civilian conservation corps in the army during world war to you an omni Los Angeles City Council. In 1962 he became the first Hispanic American elected to congress from California in almost a century and he served there for thirty years. He stood up for people who needed a champion including veterans the mentally ill elderly and people living with HIV aids. He founded the congressional Hispanic caucus to ensure that the voices of Hispanic Americans would always behind. Edward. That belief and his legacy will always live on. Charles sifford. Charles Charlie Sifford just wanted to play golf. At a time when the PGA appeared to to a caucasians only role he risked everything to effect change. In the face of death threats and stinging insults he persistently challenged the discrimination that plagued his beloved sport. While demonstrating his extraordinary skills on the course winning six national negro opens before receiving his PGA tour card. He went on to read to win PGA events was inducted into the world golf hall of fame and received an honorary doctorate from saint Andrews University. Charlie Sifford leveled the fairway for generations of athletes of all races in inspired community beyond the sport he loves. Robert and solo. A brilliant economist Robert M solo transformed our fundamental understanding how to build broad based prosperity. His groundbreaking research illustrated the importance of technological advancement to long term growth offending conventional thinking and earning him the Nobel Prize. His conclusions emphasize the importance of investing in education health and scientific research. And millions of Americans have benefited from the economic progress that he helped to spark. Robert M so those contributions have molded public opinion and policy and he continues to engage with the most pressing economic questions of the day. With his incisive commentary on income inequality and economic mobility. Meryl Streep. One of our nation's greatest actors Merrill Streep has an unmatched ability to bring character to life. Her performances have earned her the most Academy Award nominations of any actor in history and has given her audiences the chance to see the world through someone else's life. Whether portraying a famous chef a fashion editor a holocaust survivors were prime minister. She conveys her character stories with empathy and dignity. Offscreen she brings that same humanity to her advocacy to women education and the arts. With death joy and discipline Merrill Streep invites us to explore the full range of the human experience one story at a time. Marleau Thomas. For over half a century Marla Thomas has been challenging conventions and defying expectations. She broke barriers in television with her iconic role in that girl. And lifted the voices of women as co-founder of the ms. foundation for went. Three stories and songs she reminds children that we are all free to be given me. And her work with saint Jude's children's research hospital has helped to become one of the top children's cancer hospitals in the nation. After her words deeds in characters Marla Thomas has taught us to be true to ourselves until lead our lives with competence and compassion. Stevie Wonder. When it the world's most gifted singer songwriters Steve landmarks known to the world Stevie Wonder. Crafts songs about showing in las love and loneliness with a musical styles entirely his. He is celebrated for his six neighboring creativity. His virtuosity on multiple instruments and it's mastery of a wide range of genres. The results have gained millions of fans and 25 Grammy imports. Beyond his music Stevie Wonder has impacted the world through his philanthropy and efficacy especially his championing of people with disabilities. Creating music in the key of life Stevie Wonder has brought greater harmony to our nation. Well what an extraordinary group let's give them all take it around. We thank all of them for the gifts they've given to us. Incredible performances the incredible. Innovation. The incredible ideas. The incredible expressions of the humans. And not only have they made the world better but by following their example that made possible but that every single day. We are truly grateful to them and on behalf of Michelle myself. Please enjoy the reception and gutless you'll thank you. And you can watch seen these ceremonies for the medal of freedom. Givens in nineteen recipients this year president Obama's and it's one of his. Favorite medal ceremonies. To participate again and nineteen people in all. The nation's highest civilian award of course you can keep up with this story in real time by downloading the ABC news app and starring the story for exclusive updates on the go. For now I'm Michelle Franzen in New York.

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