Beloved comedian and philanthropist Ellen DeGeneres was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday. DeGeneres was visibly emotional when receiving the honor, tears shining in her eyes as President Obama placed the medal around her neck.
President Obama was equally touched by the experience, telling the audience that he choked back a few tears himself.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a civilian. Important leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Henry Kissinger and Neil Armstrong have received the medal. Ellen DeGeneres was selected to win the award—along with 20 other actors, musicians, athletes and innovators—thanks to her courage, grace and commitment to making the world a kinder and more loving place.
President Obama praised the comedian for her bravery in standing up for equality during a time when many people were not accepting of homosexuality. In fact, her popular television series “Ellen” was even canceled shortly after her eponymous character shared a kiss with another woman.
But DeGeneres did not let that end her Hollywood story. She went on to star in the widely treasured Pixar film “Finding Nemo,” and its sequel “Finding Dory,” as the forgetful fish, Dory. The White House referenced this iconic role in its speech about the actress, activist and TV host. “Keep swimming” are certainly words we all need to hear every now and then, and DeGeneres’ career and personal life have shown the powerful truth behind these words.
Her talk show “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” is one of the most popular television programs in the country, and that success is largely due not only to DeGeneres’ humor, but also to the positive energy she brings to the show. Her sign-off at the end of every episode is “Be kind to one another,” and her inspirational message has brought comfort, courage and, most importantly, laughter, to many people during dark times. In fact, she has based her career as a comedian on the fact that you can make people laugh without having to hurt anyone’s feelings or spread negativity. As she says:
“Most comedy is based on getting a laugh at somebody else’s expense. And I find that that’s just a form of bullying in a major way. So I want to be an example that you can be funny and be kind, and make people laugh without hurting somebody else’s feelings.”
Thank you, Ellen, for all the laughs, and congrats on your award!