Honoring opera to 'Star Wars,' Obama awards arts medals to 24

Wed Jul 10, 2013 5:28pm EDT
 
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By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Citing the power of artists and academics to open minds, President Barack Obama on Wednesday awarded 24 medals to people including "Star Wars" creator George Lucas and writer Joan Didion who he said touched his life and the lives of Americans.

"They challenge us to think and to question and to discover, to seek that inward significance," Obama said, awarding the winners of the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.

This year's winners included filmmaker George Lucas, creator of "Star Wars," whom Obama applauded for transforming movies.

"I remember when I first saw 'Star Wars,'" Obama said. "There's a whole generation that thinks special effects always look like they do today. But it used to be you'd see, like, the string on the little model spaceships.

Obama, known for his love of basketball and football, seemed particularly tickled to award a medal to Frank Deford, the legendary sportswriter who has spent 50 years at Sports Illustrated magazine.

"Frank, I grew up reading Sports Illustrated, and I think it was very good for me," Obama said, to laughter.

He praised the winners for working hard and following their dreams against the odds.

One of the most poignant moments of the ceremony came when Obama strode to the edge of the stage to meet author Joan Didion, 78, frail and elegant, carefully lifting the thick red ribbon holding the palm-sized humanities medal over her neck.   Continued...

 
REFILE - ADDITIONAL INFORMATION U.S. President Barack Obama (R) awards the 2012 National Medal of Arts to film producer George Lucas during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington July 10, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque