Medal_of_freedom Here's what President Obama said about Sidney Poitier and Chita Rivera, the two entertainment figures among the honorees at today's Medal of Freedom ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

"It's been said that Sidney Poitier does not make movies, he makes milestones — milestones of artistic excellence; milestones of America's progress.  On screen and behind the camera, in films such as The Defiant Ones, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Uptown Saturday Night, Lilies of the Field — for which he became the first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor — Poitier not only entertained, but enlightened, shifting attitudes, broadening hearts, revealing the power of the silver screen to bring us closer together.  The child of Bahamian tomato farmers, Poitier once called his driving purpose to make himself a better person.  He did — and he made us all a little bit better along the way."

"Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero — (applause) — knows the adversity that comes with a difficult name.  (Laughter.)  I can relate.  (Laughter.)  Known to the world by the name that has lit up Broadway marquees, Chita Rivera's career had an improbable start.  Accompanying a nervous classmate on an audition, she decided to audition herself, and impressed the choreographer, Jerome Robbins, who would make her famous as Anita in West Side Story.  Sassy, electric — that rare performer who can sing, dance, and act — Chita Rivera revealed that still rarer ability to overcome when she recovered from a car accident that shattered her leg.  She ended up retaking the stage, won a Tony for Kiss of the Spider Woman.  And like her unforgettable Anita, Chita Rivera has shown that life can indeed be bright in America."

White House photo.

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