It was an emotional moment for outgoing President Barack Obama as, for the last time ever, he presented the Medal of Freedom to some of the country’s most-loved stars of sport, science and entertainment.
When it came to awarding comedienne and chat show presenter Ellen DeGeneres with America’s highest civilian honour, Mr Obama said he felt ‘choked up’ himself as she broke down in tears.
Mr Obama, who will officially step down as President in January, said: “It’s easy to forget now just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages 20 years ago.”
He said that the bravery of her actions had done much for the LGBT community, helping to push America in the direction of justice. He acknowledged that Ms Generes had risked her career to come out.
The Democrat added: “It’s like Ellen says: we all want a tortilla chip that can support the weight of guacamole… Which really makes no sense to me, but I thought would break the mood because I was getting kind of choked up.”
Ms Generes came out in 1997, only to find that her sitcom Ellen was shelved after she told Time magazine that: “Yep, I’m gay.” She suffered from depression and did not work for three years until Pixar stepped in to offer her the role of Dory in Finding Nemo. It was a role she credited with saving her life. Her risk paid off as she now fronts The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which has an audience of 15 million.
In total, the President awarded 21 recipients with the honour. Other famous faces to receive a medal including actors Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford and Cicely Tyson.From the world of sport, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, two of the greatest basketball players ever, were among the honorees.