President Barack Obama announced Cicely Tyson and 20 other recipients for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor presented to those “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.” In addition to Tyson the list includes icons such as Diana Ross, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres, Robert De Niro, Lorne Michaels, Robert Redford, and more.
The White House release quoted Obama as saying the medal is not only the nation’s highest civilian honor but also a “tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better.”
Tyson is an award winning and legendary actress who was nominated for an Academy Award for 1972’s Sounder. She also portrayed notable roles on television, including Kunta Kinte’s mother in the adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots and the title role in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, which earned Tyson an Emmy Award in 1974. More recently, Tyson appeared in The Help and in several Tyler Perry movies. She starred as the lead in Horton Foote’s play The Trip to Bountiful, and won Tony Award for best performance by an actress in a leading role in a play in 2013. In 2015 Tyson was nominated for an Emmy for her guest starring role in ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder.
The presentation of the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom awards will be livestreamed on www.whitehouse.gov/live. Check out the complete list of the 21 recipients below.
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and six-time NBA champion.
- Elouise Cobell (posthumous): Cobell was a Native American Blackfeet Tribal leader and activist who sought Native American self-determination and financial independence. She died in 2011.
- Ellen DeGeneres: DeGeneres is a popular daytime talk show host and advocate for LGBT equality.
- Robert De Niro: De Niro is a two-time Academy Award winner for his roles in The Godfather Part II and Raging Bull.
- Richard Garwin: Garwin graduated with a Ph.D. at the age of 21 and has made contributions to sciences from U.S. defense technology to laser printing.
- Bill and Melinda Gates: The Gates family operates the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has provided $36 billion to promote healthy, productive lives.
- Frank Gehry: Gehry, an architect, designed the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Dancing House in Prague and the Guggenheim Museum in Spain.
- Margaret H. Hamilton: Hamilton led the design of on-board flight software for NASA’s Apollo mission.
- Tom Hanks: Hanks has appeared in iconic American movies for more than 20 years. Some of his most notable roles include Forrest Gump, Philadelphia, Saving Private Ryan and Cast Away.
- Grace Hopper (posthumous): Hopper was a computer developer and programmer, who created the first compiler to translate source code from on language to another. She died in 1992.
- Michael Jordan: Jordan, frequently lauded as the greatest basketball player of all time, is a six-time NBA champion and five-time winner of the MVP award.
- Maya Lin: Lin is the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.
- Lorne Michaels: Michaels created and produced Saturday Night Live and has one 13 Emmy awards for his work in late-night television.
- Newt Minow: Minow was appointed as chairman of the FCC in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, where he shaped the future of public broadcasting.
- Eduardo Padron: Padron is the president of Miami Dade College and a champion of diversity in higher learning.
- Robert Redford: Redford founded the Sundance Film Festival, the largest independent film festival in the U.S. He has also an Academy-Award-winning director.
- Diana Ross: Ross was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 for her role in the Supremes, Motown’s most successful group and one of the best-selling female groups of all time.
- Vin Scully: Scully called Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers games for 67 seasons and is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Bruce Springsteen: As an Americana rocker and front man for the E Street Band, Springsteen’s music has come to be identified with the American spirit and working-class values.
- Cicely Tyson: Tyson is a two-time Emmy winner and a Tony Award recipient. She’s been acting since 1956, and has appeared in The Trip to Bountiful, The Help and Sounder.