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President Obama's Comments On Chita Rivera From Medal Of Freedom Ceremony

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Two-time Tony Award winner Chita Rivera received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama during a special ceremony held today, August 12 at 3pm EST.

Addressing Rivera, President Barack Obama remarked:

"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."

President Obama began the ceremony with the following speech: '"There are many honors and privileges bestowed on the occupant of this house, but few mean as much to me as the chance to award America's highest civilian medal to the recipients that are here today. This is a chance for me -- and for the United States of America -- to say thank you to some of the finest citizens of this country, and of all countries."

"The men and women we honor today have led very different lives and pursued very different careers. They're pioneers in science and medicine. They're gifted artists and indomitable athletes. They have made their mark in the courtroom, in the community, and in Congress. And what unites them is a belief -- that most -- forgive me to those of you who are not Americans -- but what we consider to be that most American of beliefs -- that our lives are what we make of them; that no barriers of race, gender, or physical infirmity can restrain the human spirit; and that the truest test of a person's life is what we do for one another."

"The recipients of the Medal of Freedom did not set out to win this or any other award. They did not set out in pursuit of glory or fame or riches. Rather, they set out, guided by passion, committed to hard work, aided by persistence, often with few advantages but the gifts, grace, and good name God gave them."

"So, let them stand as an example here in the United States -- and around the world -- of what we can achieve in our own lives. Let them stand as an example of the difference we can make in the lives of others. Let each of their stories stand as an example of a life well lived."

On July 31, 2009, Chita Rivera released a statement in response to receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

"When my mother was a child, she rolled Easter eggs on the lawn of the White House. And now, to receive The Medal of Freedom from our President, is truly a dream. I am deeply honored to receive this award and to be in such distinguished company. I only wish my parents were here to share it with...but they are!"

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty of Washington, D.C. had this to say when hearing the news of Chita Rivera's honor: "I am extremely pleased to hear that D.C. native and Broadway legend Chita Rivera is a recipient of the President's Medal of Freedom for 2009. Chita's accomplishments as a singer, actor, and dancer, are truly historical. Congratulations to Chita on the enormous and well-deserved recognition she has received."

On July 30, 2009, Chita Rivera was named by President Obama as one of 16 recipients of the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom during an announcement on July 30, 2009. America's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals who make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

This year's awardees were chosen for their work as agents of change. Among their many accomplishments in fields ranging from sports and art to science and medicine to politics and public policy, these men and women have changed the world for the better. They have blazed trails and broKen Down barriers. They have discovered new theories, launched new initiatives, and opened minds to new possibilities.

President Obama said, "These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds. Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way. Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive. It is my great honor to award them the Medal of Freedom."

An accomplished and versatile actress/singer/dancer, Chita Rivera has won Two Tony Awards (Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Rink) and received seven additional Tony Award nominations. She received the coveted Kennedy Center Honor (2002) and was the first Hispanic to receive this award. She also starred in the original Broadway productions Chicago, Bye Bye Birdie, Jerry's Girls. Her electric performance as Anita in the original Broadway premiere of West Side Story (1957) brought her stardom. She recently recreated her starring role in the Kander/Ebb/McNally musical The Visit at the Signature Theatre, and starred in The Dancer's Life, an autobiographical musical about her celebrated life in the theatre (on Broadway and tour).

Additional starring roles include The Visit, Nine, Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, Seventh Heaven, Mr. Wonderful, Born Yesterday, The Rose Tattoo, Call Me Madam, Threepenny Opera, Sweet Charity, Kiss Me Kate, Zorba among many others.

President Obama will present the awards at a ceremony on Wednesday, August 12 at The White House.

The following individuals will receive the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom: Chita Rivera, Nancy Goodman Brinker (founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure), Pedro Jose Greer, Jr (physician/Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at the Florida International University School of medicine), Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist), Jack Kemp (who passed away in May 2009; former US Congressman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Nominee for Vice President), Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Billie Jean King (acclaimed professional tennis player), Rev. Joseph Lowery (US civil rights movement leader), Joe Medicine Crow-High Bird (lat living Plains Indian war chief, author), Harvey Milk (pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement), Sandra Day O'Connor (first woman to sit on the US Supreme Court), Sidney Poitier (groundbreaking actor), Mary Robinson (first female President of Ireland), Janet Davison Rowley, MD (geneticist), Desmond Tutu (Anglician Archbishop emeritus, leading anti-apartheid activist), Muhammad Yunus (global leader in anti-poverty efforts, Nobel Peace Prize winner 2006)


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