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Obama: Dingell shows 'change is possible'

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — President Barack Obama on Monday afternoon hailed Rep. John Dingell, the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history, along with 18 other honorees who were given the nation's top civilian honor.

Dingell, the 88-year-old Dearborn Democrat, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom with luminaries such as Michigan-born singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder, newsman and author Tom Brokaw and actress Meryl Streep during a White House ceremony. The award also was given to an economist, scientist, others in the arts as well as three slain civil rights voters who were trying to register blacks to vote in Mississippi in 1964.

"At 88, John, he is still going strong. His life reminds us that change takes time, it takes courage, persistence, but if we push hard enough and long enough, change is possible," Obama said at a White House ceremony, adding that Dingell had "built a peerless record" following his father in Congress.

Dingell arrived at the ceremony in a wheelchair but struggled to his feet to stand for Obama to place the medal around his neck. He got a hug from Obama after he fixed the medal around his neck to loud applause.

The president noted that Dingell had introduced comprehensive health care reform legislation every year until Congress approved the Affordable Care Act.

"I could not have been more proud to have John by my side," Obama said, noting that Dingell helped win approval of the Medicare health care program for seniors and civil rights legislation.

The Saginaw-born Wonder was honored by Obama, who noted that as a preteen the first album he bought with his own money was Wonder's "Talking Book." Wonder has become one of the most influential singer-song writers of the last half century.

"What really defines Stevie's music is the warmth and humanity that resonates in every note," Obama said.

"Some of his songs helped us to fall in love. Others mended our hearts.

"Some motivated us on the campaign trail — and thanks to Stevie all of us have been moved to 'higher ground,'" he said, referring to one of Wonder's popular songs.

Dingell said Friday the medal was the honor of his life.

"Let's be honest about it. It's the biggest, most important, the most celebrated of all — and, I have to admit, I'm flattered beyond any telling and grateful beyond anything to President Obama for his kindness to me," Dingell said Friday in a Detroit News interview.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom was created in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy through an executive order and is similar to the Medal of Freedom created by President Harry S. Truman in 1945 to honor civilians who served in World War II. It recognizes "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."

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