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East Room

4:09 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Please.  The First Lady and I would just like to welcome everyone to the White House, a special place.  It’s very, very special.  No matter where you go in the world, this is one of those places that you never forget.

This afternoon, it is my immense privilege to present our nation’s highest honors for contributions to American art and culture: the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal.  Please join me in congratulating each of today’s recipients on their really — and I mean truly phenomenal achievement.  It’s an incredible achievement.  And congratulations to all.  (Applause.)

With us today are Vice President Mike Pence.  Mike, thank you very much.  Secretary Steven Mnuchin.  Secretary Betsy DeVos.  Thank you very much, Betsy.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a great warrior and a man who has done some incredible things two weeks ago.  Al-Baghdadi.  He did a very great job.  Al-Baghdadi, the terrorist leader, the head of ISIS, is dead.  Thank you very much, Mark Milley.  Please stand up, Mark.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

Also with us is a friend of ours and a great congressman and a warrior in his own right: Congressman Phil Roe.  Phil?  Thank you, wherever you may be.  Thank you, Phil, very much.  Along with the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Mary Anne Carter, and the Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, Jon Peede.  Thank you very much.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Appreciate it.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Great nations produce great thinkers, artists, musicians, and scholars who make our world a more beautiful, enlightened, and joyful place.  Each of today’s recipients has made outstanding contributions to American society, culture, and life.  They exemplify the genius, talent, and creativity of our exceptional nation.
(“Midnight Cowboy” song is played.)  (Applause.)

I want to hear that whole song, but I don’t know, Jon, maybe we got to get it moving a little bit.  (Laughter.)  But what a — what a great movie.  You’ve made some of the greatest movies of all time.  Thank you very much.

Actor and friend Jon Voight is one of America’s greatest living legends in cinema.  He has captivated audiences for more than half a century, starring in dozens of Hollywood blockbusters, including “Midnight Cowboy,” “Coming Home,” “Mission Impossible,” and “National Treasure.”  And another one — I think it’s, frankly, the greatest boxing movie of all time — “The Champ.”  And that was some great movie.  Everyone was crying at that movie.  I tried not to, Jon — (laughter) — but wasn’t easy.  It wasn’t easy — “The Champ.”  And that was with Ricky Schroder, right?  Ricky Schroder.  A really great job.  That was incredible.

Jon is an actor of astonishing range and depth.  As the memorable Ed Gentry, he played one of the leading roles in “Deliverance” — another great one.  He became an investigative reporter tracking down Nazi war criminals in the “Odessa File.”  And inhabited the role of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in “Pearl Harbor.”  He was so great.  And he masterfully played Howard Cosell in “Ali.”  That was not an easy role.  I know Howard very well.  I knew him very well.
Jon captures the imagination of the audiences and dominates almost every single scene he’s in.  He’s a special person.  He won the Academy Award for Best Actor, earned four Oscar nominations and four Golden Globes.

Jon Voight, you are an amazing artist and a beloved icon of the American film.  Congratulations.  Receiving the National Medal of Arts is a tremendous, tremendous achievement.  And you deserve it.  We’re really — we love having you here, especially since it’s somebody that I happen to really like.  (Laughter.)  So, thank you very much, Jon.  Congratulations.  (Applause.)

Sharon Rockefeller has been a strong advocate for the arts and public broadcasting.  The First Lady of West Virginia, Sharon fought on behalf of the state’s schoolchildren and served on the board of the West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority.  She is currently Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the National Gallery of Art, and has helped the institution acquire breathtaking works of beauty.  Some of the best anywhere in the world.

Sharon has also served as President of the Washington Educational Telecommunications Association for 30 years.  She helped establish WETA as one of the preeminent public broadcasting networks in the nation, producing “PBS NewsHour” and “Washington Week,” among other programming.  And now, maybe I’ll start getting some good publicity on those particular shows, Sharon.  Could you please start working on that, Sharon?  (Laughter.)  They tend to be on the other side of things a little bit.  I think now I have a better chance.

Sharon, as you receive the National Medal of Arts, we thank you for enriching the lives of millions.  And I want to thank you very much for being here, Sharon.  Great job you’ve done.  (Applause.)  Incredible job.

Another friend of mine, author James Patterson, is one of the most prolific and talented fiction writers of all time.  James has authored or co-authored 277 books and sold more than 400 million copies worldwide.  And I always tell James that I don’t talk about the books that I’ve done, when I’m in his presence, because he’s outdone me by a lot.  You’ve sold a lot more books than me — (laughter) — and I guess you’ve sold a lot more books than anyone but maybe one.  I don’t know, the Bible, I think, has you.  Right, James?  The Bible has you by a little bit, right?
But James is most prolific and highly, highly talented.  Two hundred and eighteen of his titles have earned a spot on the New York Times bestseller list, and 95 of them have been ranked number one.  From “Alex Cross” to “Invisible,” James has entertained adults and children alike with gripping action, stirring adventure, and thrilling mystery.  He’s also given millions of dollars and countless books to charity.

James, I want to just congratulate you.  I know him so well, and he’s a special, special man with a very, very special family.  So, congratulations on receiving the National Humanitaries [Humanities] Medal.  And I want to just congratulate you because it’s fantastic.  (Applause.)  Fantastic job.  Fantastic job.  Thanks, James.

Alison Krauss —

(“Down in the River to Pray” song begins to play.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, I like the music better.  Go ahead.  (Laughter.)

(“Down in the River to Pray” continues to play.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Alison Krauss is one of the most acclaimed musicians in America.  She picked up a fiddle for the first time at the age five, signed her first record at 14, and earned her first Grammy at 19.  During a career spanning over three decades, Alison has never been confined to one musical genre or style.  She has received more than 25 top awards for gospel, country, and bluegrass.  She has sold over 12 million records worldwide; won more Grammys than any woman in history.  Wow, that’s pretty good.  (Laughter.)  That’s a big — that’s a big statement.  Look how shy she is.  (Laughter.)

And today, we proudly present her the National Medal of Arts.  And, Alison, I want to thank you very much for sharing your wonderful gift with the world.  Thank you very much.  It’s fantastic.  (Applause.)

Chef and restauranteur Patrick O’Connell is a preeminent culinary artist and a trailblazing industry pioneer.  Patrick showcases the brilliance of American technique, the depth of American ingredients, and the limitless potential of American high cuisine at its absolute finest.

In 1978, Patrick opened The Inn at Little Washington in the small rural town of Washington, Virginia.  Patrick transformed the former gas station into one of the most renowned fine-dining establishments on Earth.  For the past two years, The Inn at Little Washington has been one of the — just handful of restaurants in America to receive three Michelin stars.  Every day, Patrick and his team pursue absolute perfection.  They are true artists who fill us with pride in our national cuisine.

Patrick, as we award you the National Humanities Medal — a very special, very powerful award — we thank you and your entire team for the enduring contribution to American culture.  And I think the First Lady and I will have to stop by very soon — (laughter) — because it sounds good to me, and I’ve heard incredible things.  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Patrick, very much.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Patrick.

I’d like to acknowledge the extremely talented White House chefs here this afternoon, including Tommy Kurpradit.  Where is Tommy?  Tommy, you have to be around here.  Tommy?  Thank you, Tommy.  What a job you do.  You do too good a job, as far as I’m concerned.  (Laughter.)  Who once worked under Patrick at The Inn.

And as one of America’s leading think tanks, the Claremont Institute has made invaluable contributions to the history of American conservative thought.  Claremont educates, reminds, and informs Americans about the founding principles that have made our country the greatest nation anywhere on Earth.

Through publications, seminars, and scholarship, they fight to “recover the American idea”; I know it well.  By teaching about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the writings of Abraham Lincoln — whose bedroom is right above us.  It’s a great thing to see that bedroom — isn’t it, General?  Isn’t that something?  The General went up and saw it recently, and it’s something very special.  The Claremont Institute helps preserve our national traditions for generations to come.

Accepting the National Humanities Medal on behalf of the organization is Claremont Institute President Ryan Williams. Thank you very much, Ryan, for being here.  Thank you.  Great job.  (Applause.)

Teresa Lozano Long is an extraordinary philanthropist and supporter of education and the arts.  With her husband Joe, she has given over $130 million to universities and cultural organizations in Texas.  They created the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of Texas, in Austin, which helps maintain one of the best archives on Latin American history anywhere in the world.

Teresa was also the first Hispanic American to receive a doctorate in health and physical education from the University of Texas, in Austin.  She has also served as a member of the National Council on the Arts.  Teresa, we are so honored to have you.  And it’s a great privilege to present you the National Humanities Medal.  Thank you very much, Teresa.  (Applause.)

(“Stars and Stripes Forever” song is played.)

Thank you very much.  So, next, I have the honor to recognize not just one, but 6,656 tremendous artists and patriots: the musicians of the United States Military.  That is really something, the job you do.  Thank you very much.

Forming 136 bands worldwide, these awe-inspiring men and women in uniform perform over 35,000 times each year, from concert halls to warzones.  They touch the hearts of service members of the frontlines, wounded veterans in hospitals, Gold Star Families at military funerals, and Americans everywhere.  They’re not just magnis- — magnificent performers — and they really are the finest anywhere in the world — they’re also courageous warriors.

We’re joined this afternoon by the Premier Band Commanders.  And accepting the National Medal of Arts on behalf of all military musicians is now 21-year-old — then 19-year-old when he joined — Staff Sergeant Jan Knutson, the youngest Premier Band musician in the United States military.  And thank you very much, Staff Sergeant.  We appreciate it that you’re here.

And I will say that I have had the privilege of listening to — along with the First Lady and many of the people in the room — Vice President — some of the greatest music I’ve ever listened to.  These are incredibly talented musicians.  Many of them could be in the great concert halls of the world, but this is what they want and this is where they want to be.  And they wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I think we can say that with surety.

The recipients of today’s awards have uplifted the mind, spirit, and soul of this country.  You have made the life of our nation more rewarding, entertaining, and fulfilling.  You have brought joy, comfort, and meaning to the homes and hearts of countless Americans.  I want to congratulate you all, and I want to congratulate your loved ones.  We’re immensely grateful for everything you’ve done for our country.

And I would like, now, to ask the military aide to come forward and to please read the citations.  Thank you.

MILITARY AIDE:  Alison Krauss for making extraordinary contributions to American music, blending bluegrass, folk, gospel, and country into a unique style.  She has entertained and enriched the souls of millions.

(The National Medal of Arts is presented.)  (Applause.)

Sharon Percy Rockefeller for being a renowned champion of the arts, a generous supporter of charity, and a pioneer of new ideas and approaches in the field of public policy.

(The National Medal of Arts is presented.)  (Applause.)

The musicians of the United States military for personifying excellence in music and service to country.  For –from concert halls to warzones, these extraordinary patriots have inspired and uplifted their fellow Americans over generations with their incredible courage and breathtaking musical talent.

(The National Medal of Arts is presented.)  (Applause.)

Jon Voight for his exceptional capacity as an actor to portray deeply complex characters.  Captivating audiences, he has given us insights into the richness of the human mind and heart.

(The National Medal of Arts is presented.)  (Applause.)

The Claremont Institute for championing the nation’s founding principles and enriching American minds.  Its publications and public events have deepened our understanding and appreciation of American freedom, democracy, justice, and rule of law.

(The National Humanities Medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Teresa Lozano Long for supporting the arts and improving educational opportunities.  Through scholarship and philanthropy, she has helped America’s children and young adults learn the skills they need to succeed.

(The National Humanities Medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

Patrick J. O’Connell for being one of the greatest chefs of our time.  Through The Inn at Little Washington, he has raised the culinary arts to new heights of excellence by embracing regional flavors and celebrating local farmers.

(The National Humanities Medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

James Patterson for being one of the most successful American authors of our time.  His prodigious imagination has resulted in fascinating works that have been enjoyed by millions.  His championship of literacy in America has inspired many to realize their potential.

(The National Humanities Medal is presented.)  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)


4:35 P.M. EST