The 58-year-old talk show host, who was chosen because of her influence on LGBT rights, was one of 21 recipients honored with the prestigious award, including Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jordan, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks and Diana Ross. DeGeneres was introduced by both a White House aide and Obama, 55.
"In a career spanning three decades, Ellen DeGeneres has lifted our spirits and brought joy to our lives as a stand-up comic, actor and television star," the White House aide said. "At a pivotal moment, her courage and candor helped change the hearts and minds of millions of Americans, accelerating our nation's constant drive toward equality and acceptance for all. Ellen DeGeneres has showed us that a single individual can make the world a more fun, more open, more loving place, so long as we just keep swimming."
After POTUS bestowed an emotional DeGeneres with the medal, he addressed the crowd with a statement about her influence on the LGBT community.
"It's easy to forget now — when we've come so far, where now marriage is equal under the law — just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago," Obama explained. "Just how important it was not just for the LGBT community, but for all of us to see somebody so full of kindness and light. Somebody we liked so much, somebody who could be our neighbor or our colleague or our sister challenge our own assumptions. Remind us that we have more in common than we realize, push our country in the direction of justice. What an incredible burden it was to bear, to risk your career like that. People don't do that often."
The president started to tear up too quipping, "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 it would break the mood because I was getting kind of choked up."
Prior to the ceremony, DeGeneres was initially denied entry into the White House because she left her ID at home. "They haven't let me in to the White House yet because I forgot my ID #NotJoking," the Finding Dory star captioned a Twitter photo of herself waiting on a bench outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday morning.
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