The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation honored award-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg with the prestigious Lincoln Leadership Prize at a dinner ceremony Wednesday at the Hilton Chicago. The award was presented by actress Sally Field, who starred as Mary Todd Lincoln in Spielberg’s Academy Award winning film, Lincoln (2012).
The Lincoln Leadership Prize is awarded to extraordinary individuals for a lifetime of service. It is given to one who encompasses “great strength of character, individual conscience, and an unwavering commitment to the defining principles of democracy,” according to the foundation’s website.
“Anyone who actually thinks he’s deserving of the Lincoln Leadership Prize is kidding himself,” joked Spielberg, who humbly accepted the award before an audience that included U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn and local business and philanthropic leaders. The program included video tributes to Spielberg from actors Whoopi Goldberg and Tom Cruise, composer John Williams, Holocaust survivor Sam Harris and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, among others.
“We are pleased to present this year’s Lincoln Leadership Prize to Steven Spielberg, who brings socially relevant issues to the forefront of our minds through the medium of film,” said Wayne W. Whalen, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation.
Chaz Ebert, president of Ebert Digital and a member of the foundation’s board, spoke briefly about first meeting Spielberg on the Universal Studios lot. She said her husband Roger once remarked that Spielberg “finds the heart” in film.
“It is especially poignant to award the Lincoln Prize to Steven Spielberg because my husband Roger always singled out Spielberg as a filmmaker whose storytelling transcended movies, showing us his humanity as well as his brilliantly creative mind. From his filmmaking to his philanthropy, Spielberg is a worthy recipient of this award,” Ebert said.
Past recipients of the Lincoln Leadership Prize include President Bill Clinton, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, U.S. astronaut Capt. James A. Lovell Jr., journalist Tim Russert, Poland’s former president Lech Walesa and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.