President Barack Obama talks with Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Toni Morrison in the Blue Room of the White House, May 29, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama on Tuesday bestowed the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on Nobel Prize winning writer Toni Morrison and others who he said are his personal heroes.
From the famous – singer-songwriter Bob Dylan – to the not so well-known – Bill Foege, an epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox – Obama paid tribute to those he said have “changed our lives for the better.”
“We present this amazing group with one more accolade for a life well lived,” he said as he presented the the medal to the recipients.
“I have to say, just looking around the room, this is a packed house,” Obama said in the East Room of the White House, calling it a “testament to how cool this group is. Everybody wanted to check ’em out.”
“Toni Morrison’s prose brings us that kind of moral and emotional intensity that few writers ever attempt. From “Song of Solomon” to” Beloved,” Toni reaches us deeply using a tone that is lyrical, precise, distinct and inclusive. She believes that language ‘arcs toward the place where meaning might lie.’ The rest of us are happy to be following along for the ride.” Obama said.
They cheered and clapped for Dylan and Morrison. And there were cheers when Dolores Huerta, an activist who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with the late Cesar Chavez, was recognized. “She was very polite when I told her I had stolen her slogan, ’Si se puede’” Obama joked of the woman whom he said has “fought to give more people a seat at the table.”