Obama’s Last Presidential Medals of Freedom

By Sanho Kim.

Awards, in literal definition, are meant to be bestowed on those who have shown excellence and admirable performance in a certain area. From the Oscars and Emmys, to the Nobel Prize and the AP Scholar Award, awards play a surprisingly influential role in today’s society, as they not only acknowledge the “best” players in their fields of that generation (thereby leaving set records for history to exemplify), but also reveal insight into what the providers of that award consider as commendable.

The Presidential Medals of Freedom are a series of awards given to civilians who have made laudable contributions to America, culture, world peace, or such subjects. The recipients are named by none other than the standing President of the U.S., based on what he/she deemed worthy of such recognition; the opposition frequently criticizes its criteria and standards, while its prestige nonetheless remains high.

It was no different this year—on the 22nd of November 2016, a collection of “prestigious people” gathered at the White House to attend the ceremony, conducted by current President Barack Obama. The recipients included musicians, actors, TV hosts, entrepreneurs, activists, and sports stars.

The President

As 2016 comes to an end, with new President-elect Donald Trump waiting for inauguration, these medals will be the last for President Barack Obama—the president who has been most generous with these medals.

On the brink of a political shift, many view his recognition and prizes as revealing of his personal character, views, and political standpoint. Many of the recipients, including outspoken celebrities such as the Gates or Ellen DeGeneres, had supported Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign, the Democrat candidate who President Obama himself had endorsed. Others were either activists, contributors to the sciences, or advocates of causes shared by the President, such as environment issues.


Again, the ceremony met mixed reactions, as supporters of President Obama praised the recipients, while those who stood at the other side of the political spectrum disagreed, frequently considering the medals a part of the “liberal media”, and representative only of those who shared views with Obama.

Many pointed to the most popularly known recipients—the celebrities—having been active in supporting Hillary Clinton, as many of the celebrities awarded had either followed or contributed to her campaign; many of them had publicly made political comments on the 2016 election, in ways such as performing at Clinton Rallies, or publicly commenting and endorsing the former presidential candidate, while some “ranted” on President-elect Trump.

The Recipients

The following is a list of all the 21 recipients of the 2016 Presidential Medals Of Freedom:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: NBA player, advocate for social justice

Elouise Cobell (posthumous): Native American activist, tribal community leader

Ellen DeGeneres: comedian, host of The Ellen DeGeneres show

Robert De Niro: Award-winning actor

Richard Garwin: Polymath physicist

Bill and Melinda Gates: founders of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Frank Gehry: Architect (Walt Disney Concert Hall, Guggenheim Museum)

Margaret H. Hamilton: Computer scientist

Tom Hanks: Award-winning actor

Grace Hopper (posthumous): Computer scientist

Michael Jordan: NBA player

Maya Lin: Artist, designer, environmentalist

Lorne Michaels: Producer, screenwriter

Newt Minow: Attorney, former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission.

Eduardo Padrón: President of Miami Dade College

Robert Redford: Actor, director

Diana Ross: Singer, actress

Vin Scully: Baseball broadcaster

Bruce Springsteen: Singer, songwriter

Cicely Tyson: Award-winning Actress

Image Source:

Carl Sandburg’s Presidential Medal of Freedom By National Park Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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