WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom – the United States’ highest civilian decoration – to 16 luminaries in the fields of politics, sports, science and entertainment, including Ted Kennedy, Sidney Poitier, Stephen Hawking, Desmond Tutu and Chita Rivera.
During a moving ceremony Thursday at the White House that lasted 45 minutes and was sprinkled with numerous ovations, Obama said the recipients were extraordinary “agents of change” who “remind us that excellence is not beyond our abilities.”
“They remind us that we each have it within our powers to fulfill dreams, to advance the dreams of others, and to remake the world for our children,” Obama said.
The ceremony paid tribute to figures of recent history who, through their talents or political and humanitarian activism, have left an indelible mark on the sciences, academics, the sports world, civil rights and entertainment.
Among this year’s 16 honorees were two Latinos, entertainer Chita Rivera and Cuban-American physician Pedro Jose “Joe” Greer Jr.
Born in Washington to a Puerto Rican father and a Scottish-Italian mother, Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero became famous as “Anita” in the original Broadway production of “West Side Story.” She has garnered two Tony Awards and the Kennedy Center Honors Award over a 50-year career.
Dr. Joe Greer, a Miami native, founded the Camillus Health Concern in 1984 while still a medical intern. The clinic now treats thousands of homeless patients a year. EFE