Oprah Winfrey was honored at the White House on Wednesday with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in an East Room ceremony heavy in historical reference and doses of humor.
“Early in Oprah Winfrey’s career her bosses told her she should change her name to Susie,” President Obama quipped in introducing Winfrey. “I have to pause here to say I got the same advice.” He then assured the crowd gathered that his advice was merely to change his name, although “not to Susie.”
Others in entertainment who were honored included singer Loretta Lynn and musician Arturo Sandoval, who joined former President Bill Clinton, former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), baseball legend Ernie Banks, civil rights icon C.T. Vivian, Ms. magazine founder Gloria Steinem and former Washington Post editor in chief Ben Bradlee among those receiving the medals.
Obama hugged Lynn as an announcer cited her accomplishments in “breaking barriers in country music and entertainment.”
Winfrey was recognized as a “global media icon” who started her series in 1986, when there were “few women and even fewer women of color” hosting talk shows. She was also recognized for her “innate gift for tapping into our fervent hopes and our deepest fears.”
Two of the most moving parts of the ceremony came as the same-sex partners of astronaut Sally Ride and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin accepted awards posthumously.