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Gates Medal of Freedom
Bill and Melinda Gates each receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama on Tuesday at The White House. (The White House via YouTube)

Bill and Melinda Gates were awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony at The White House on Tuesday, and in his introduction of the couple, President Obama offered the highest praise for their work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Obama also drew laughs for getting in a dig at Bill Gates’ pace when it came to dating his future wife.

“We came close to missing out on a Bill and Melinda Gates incredible partnership because apparently Bill’s opening line was, ‘Do you want to go out two weeks from this coming Saturday?'” Obama said as he began his remarks, with the Microsoft co-founder seated directly behind him. Bill Gates smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “He’s good with computers, but, you know. … Fortunately, Melinda believes in second chances, and the world is better for it.”

The president was clearly in a good mood, as he jokingly referred to NBA great and honoree Michael Jordan as the “renowned character actor from “Space Jam” and later said Jordan was “more than just an internet meme,” in reference to this.

The Gateses were among an eclectic group of 21 Americans receiving the nation’s highest civilian honor. Other honorees included Tom Hanks, Ellen DeGeneres, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Redford, Robert De Niro, Maya Lin, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Frank Gehry and more.

As the president commended their philanthropic work and achievements, Melinda Gates could be seen reaching for her husband’s hand.

“For two decades, the Gates Foundation has worked to provide lifesaving medical care to millions — boosting clean water supplies, improving education for our children, rallying aggressive international action on climate change, cutting childhood mortality in half. The list could go on,” Obama said.

“The two have donated more money to charitable causes than anyone ever. Many years ago Melinda’s mom told her an old saying: ‘To know that even one life has breathed easier because you lived, that is success.’ By this and just about any other measure, few in human history have been more successful than these two impatient optimists.”

When it came time to get their medals, the Gateses stood alongside the president and heard the official description of why they were receiving the honor. Obama then placed the medals around both of their necks. ABC News shared the moment in this video tweet:

Obama concluded the ceremony by calling the event special to him because everyone on the stage has touched him “in a very powerful, personal way.”

Bill and Melinda Gates both later tweeted their delight in receiving the Medal of Freedom, thanking Gates Foundation staff and partners for their efforts around the world.

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