“I’m grateful, Bill, as well, for the advice and counsel that you’ve offered me, on and off the golf course,” Obama said to chuckles. “And most importantly, for your lifesaving work around the world, which represents what’s the very best in America.”
As a teenager, Bill Clinton shook hands with Kennedy the summer before the assassination when he and other high school students in the Boys Nation program went to Washington.
Obama said the late Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, didn’t just break the stratospheric glass ceiling, “she blasted right through it.”
“Young girls need to see role models, she said. You can’t be what you can’t see,” Obama said. “Today our daughters, including Malia and Sasha, can set their sights a little bit higher because Sally Ride showed them the way.”
Receiving the award for Ride, who died last year, was Tam O’Shaughnessy, who was introduced as Ride’s life partner.
The president made a point of highlighting those who had overcome additional obstacles and stigmatization because they were gay, black, female or Asian. He noted that early in her career, Oprah’s bosses suggested she change her name to something more relatable.
“I got the same advice,” Obama said.
Kennedy established the modern version of the medal, but was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, two weeks before he planned to honor the inaugural group of recipients. Hundreds of noteworthy figures have since received the medal.
In the evening, Obama was to give a speech on Kennedy’s legacy of service at a dinner at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History attended by current and past medal recipients, including baseball’s Hank Aaron, astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, singer Aretha Franklin, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, activist Jesse Jackson and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.