As the last days of America’s first Cool President wind to a close, Barack Obama took one last chance to remind us what we’re about to lose, giving a warm, joke-filled speech honoring this year’s crop of Presidential Medal Of Freedom honorees. Starting with a statement that this year’s crop of notables—including Diana Ross, Native American rights advocate Elouise P. Cobell, Bill and Melinda Gates, and a number of athletes and actors—was “a particularly impressive class,” Obama not only managed to refer to Tom Hanks as “America’s Dad,” but also to crack some jokes about Space Jam.
You can watch the full version of Obama’s speech right here (it starts at 50:50 or so in the video), but a few highlights include his praise of Bill and Melinda Gates as “impatient optimists,” his description of Michael Jordan as “the guy from Space Jam,” and his quoting of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s best line from Airplane!. He also paid tribute to Ellen DeGeneres’ work, both as one of America’s first high-profile openly gay women, and as a free-standing joy factory, and Lorne Michaels for bringing comedy sketches like “Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer” and the recent Tom Hanks “Black Jeopardy” scene into the world. (Obama resisted the urge to reference David S. Pumpkins, though, a moment of restraint that history will probably thank him for in the long run.)
In the world of sports, Obama paid tribute to voices like Vin Scully, one of the most beloved announcers in all of baseball, Abdul-Jabbar—referencing the NCAA’s banning of the dunk during his college career with, “When a sport changes its rules, to make it harder just for you…You are good”—and Michael Jordan. Jordan got some affectionate teasing from the president, who not only name-checked Space Jam a second time, but also the “crying Jordan” meme. (Later, Jordan reportedly shed tears while receiving his medal, which seems like a justified response to the President Of The United States making fun of you, while also giving you the highest government honor in American civilian life.)
Obama’s speech included tributes to artists, computer programmers, and nuclear scientists, but he reserved some of his highest praise for the last entry on the list: rocker Bruce Springsteen. Name-checking a number of Springsteen’s songs, Obama finished with a simple, pithy line: “I’m the president. He’s The Boss.”