Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Obama on Monday honored 19 individuals with the nation’s highest civilian honor.
At the annual Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House, the president heaped praise on the recipients, highlighting their distinguished and varied accomplishments. He also revealed some interesting anecdotes about the trailblazers:
1) Obama has a sweet spot for Stevie Wonder…
It turns out Stevie Wonder’s classic album Talking Book had a profound impact on Obama when he was growing up.
“This is, by the way, the first album I bought with my own money. I was 10 years old, maybe 11…with my own cash!” the president recounted, as the singer sat beside him. “I didn’t have a lot of it.”
“And I listened to that thing — that thing got so worn out, had all scratches — young people, you won’t remember this, but you had albums and they got scratched,” Obama added.
2) …But he loves Meryl:
“I love Meryl Streep,” the president proudly declared. “I love her. Her husband knows I love her. Michelle knows I love her. There’s nothing either of them can do about it.”
“She’s done it all for her craft. She’s sung ABBA, which you know, that’s something,” he joked. “She learned violin. She wore a nun’s habit, faced down a charging lion, mastered every accent under the sun. She inhabits her characters so fully and compassionately.”
3) Sometimes you do want “nobody, nobody sent”:
Lauding the works of dedicated public servant Abner Mikva, Obama retold a story of his dogged determination.
As a young man, Mikva went to volunteer for a local committee in Chicago. When the committeeman asked who sent him, Mikva said, “Nobody.”
“The committeeman said, ‘We don’t want nobody, nobody sent,’” Obama explained. “That’s Chicago for you.”
“Despite that abrupt dismissal, Ab went on to devote his life to public service,” Obama said, including reforming the Illinois criminal code and going to great lengths to defend freedom of speech.
4) Marlo Thomas “sleeps well”:
Singling out the award-winning actress, producer, author and social activist, the president revealed what makes Thomas succeed: She’s a giver.
He explained how her father used to say there are two types of people in the world: the takers and the givers. “The takers sometimes eat better, but the givers always sleep better,” he would say.
“Marlo Thomas sleeps very well, because she’s given so much,” Obama said.
5) And “you don’t mess with Ethel”:
“To most Americans, Ethel Kennedy is known as a wife, mother and grandma,” Obama said of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow.
“On urgent human rights issues of our time, from juvenile justice to environment destruction, Ethel has been a force for change in her quiet, unflashy unstoppable way. As her family will tell you — and they basically occupy this half of the room — you don’t mess with Ethel,” he said.
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