At the Academy Awards this Sunday, some of the best talents working in the entertainment business will be honored, while millions watch on TV. Less than two weeks earlier, there was a televised ceremony honoring people for their contribution to the world — although you might have missed it.
I accidentally stumbled upon this little-watched annual televised ceremony where the President of the United States bestows the “Medal of Freedom” to civilians who made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Like an earlier broadcast of CNN Heroes, it was moving and inspiring to see people who have done great things in their life be rewarded for their humanitarian contributions.
In this ceremony that aired on February 15th, 2011, President Obama bestowed the Medal of Freedom upon 15 honorees ranging from former President George H.W. Bush to cellist Yo-Yo Ma. As the President shared their stories, each honoree stepped forward to receive their medal. It was their moment to be recognized, a moving tribute, as each individual stood there, the embodiment of contribution — from Congressman John Lewis, a “giant” of the Civil Rights Movement who helped organize the first lunch-counter sit-in and was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington; to Gerda Weissmann Klein, a Jewish Holocaust survivor who married the Army Lieutenant who liberated her camp, then founded Citizenship Counts, dedicating her life to promoting tolerance and understanding among all people. See the entire list of inspiring 2010 Medal of Freedom Recipients here.
As the actors and actresses give thanks their agents and managers on Sunday night, let’s reboot the awards shows to include a world where we bestow honors not for acting, but for being.