Ellen Degeneres was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday at The White House, along with 20 other celebrities including Bruce Springsteen, Lorne Michaels, Robert DeNiro, Tom Hanks, Melinda & Bill Gates, and Robert Redford.
The award is for “individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” according to the White House.
Before the ceremony began, Degeneres tweeted a photo of herself sitting on a bench outside the White House, because she lost her ID and security wouldn’t let her in.
Once inside, President Obama gave a moving and funny testimonial. “It’s easy to forget now, when we have come so far where 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. Just how important it was. Not just to the LGBT community, but of all of us. To see someone who could be our neighbor, or a colleague, or a sister, who would challenge our assumptions. It reminds us that we have more in common than we realize. Push our country in the direction of justice. And she did pay a price. We don’t remember this price.” (She got fired from her own “Ellen” sitcom! And had a hard time finding work for a few years afterwards.)
“I’m gettin’ kind of choked up,” the President said at one point, as Robert DeNiro sweetly kissed her on the forehead. Wow. What a moment. “Ellen makes fun of things, not people,” he said. Then he joked, “although she did make fun of my dancing.”