U.S. President Barack Obama awarded the nation's highest civilian honor - the Presidential Medal of Freedom - to 16 Americans in a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday.
One of Obama's predecessors, John F. Kennedy, established the award 50 years ago to honor those who have made outstanding contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to other significant public or private endeavors.
The recipients this year include former president Bill Clinton, Country music legend Loretta Lynn, renowned women's rights activist Gloria Steinem and television icon Oprah Winfrey.
Obama said this year's honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent. But he said what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world.
Three of the 16 Medals of Freedom were awarded posthumously.
The recipients are:
?1. Ernie Banks
Known to many as “Mr. Cub,” Ernie Banks is one of the greatest American baseball players. During his 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, he played in 11 All-Star Games, hit more than 500 home runs, and became the first National League player to win Most Valuable Player honors in back-to-back years. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year of eligibility.
2. Ben Bradlee
During his 23-year tenure as executive editor of The Washington Post newspaper, Ben Bradlee oversaw some of the most ground-breaking news stories. He led the newspaper's coverage of the Watergate scandal, which forced President Richard Nixon from office. He also successfully challenged the federal government over the right to publish the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret study of the Vietnam War.
3. Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton was the 42nd president of the United States. Before taking office, he served as governor and attorney seneral of the southern state of Arkansas. Following his second term, Clinton established the Clinton Foundation to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote health and wellness, and protect the environment.
4. Daniel Inouye (posthumous)
Daniel Inouye was the first Japanese American to serve in Congress, representing the people of Hawaii from the moment they joined the Union in 1959. As a young man, he fought in World War II with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for which he received the Medal of Honor. He was later elected to the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate.
5. Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman is a pioneering scholar of psychology. After escaping Nazi occupation in World War II, Kahneman immigrated to Israel, where he served in the Israel Defense Forces and trained as a psychologist. Alongside Amos Tversky, he applied cognitive psychology to economic analysis, laying the foundation for a new field of research and earning the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002. He is currently a professor at Princeton University.
6. Richard Lugar
Richard Lugar represented Indiana in the United States Senate for more than 30 years. An internationally respected statesman, he is best known for his bipartisan leadership and decades-long commitment to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. Prior to serving in Congress, Lugar was a Rhodes Scholar and mayor of Indianapolis from 1968 to 1975. He currently serves as president of the Lugar Center.
7. Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn is a country music legend. Raised in rural Kentucky, she emerged as one of the first successful female country music vocalists in the early 1960s, courageously breaking barriers in an industry long dominated by men. Lynn’s numerous accolades include the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.
8. Mario Molina
Mario Molina won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering how chlorofluorocarbons deplete the ozone layer. Born in Mexico, Molina came to the U.S. to pursue his graduate degree. He is a professor at the University of California, San Diego; director of the Mario Molina Center for Energy and Environment; and a member of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.
9. Sally Ride (posthumous)
Sally Ride was the first American female astronaut to travel to space. As a role model to generations of young women, she advocated passionately for science education, stood up for racial and gender equality in the classroom, and taught students from every background that there are no limits to what they can accomplish. Ride also served in several administrations as an adviser on space exploration.
10. Bayard Rustin (posthumous)
Bayard Rustin was an adviser to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. He promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.
11. Arturo Sandoval
Arturo Sandoval is a celebrated jazz trumpeter, pianist, and composer. Born outside Havana, he became a protégé of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie and gained international acclaim as a dynamic performer. He defected to the United States in 1990 and later became an American citizen. He has been awarded nine Grammy Awards and is widely considered one of the greatest living jazz artists.
12. Dean Smith
As head coach of the University of North Carolina basketball team from 1961 to 1997, Dean Smith earned two national championships, was named National Coach of the Year multiple times, and retired as the winningest men’s college basketball coach in history. Ninety-six percent of his players graduated from college. Smith also has remained a dedicated civil rights advocate throughout his career.
13. Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem was a leader in the women’s liberation movement and co-founder of the feminist Ms. magazine. She helped launch a wide variety of groups and publications dedicated to advancing civil rights. Steinem has received dozens of awards over the course of her career, and remains an active voice for women’s rights.
14. Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian
A leader in the Civil Rights Movement and friend to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., C.T. Vivian participated in Freedom Rides and sit-ins across the United States. Vivian also helped found numerous civil rights organizations, including Vision, the National Anti-Klan Network, and the Center for Democratic Renewal. In 2012, he returned to serve as interim president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
15. Patricia Wald
After graduating as one of only 11 women in her Yale University Law School class, Patricia Wald became the first woman appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and served as its chief judge from 1986-1991. She later served on the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. Wald currently serves on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
16. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey is best known for creating "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which became the highest rated talk show in America for 25 years. Winfrey has long been active in philanthropic causes and expanding opportunities for young women. She has received numerous awards throughout her career, including the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2002 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2010.