Media mogul Oprah Winfrey and former President Bill Clinton were among the 15 extraordinary Americans awarded Wednesday with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
During a White House ceremony, President Barack Obama presented the nation’s highest civilian honors, which were created 50 years ago by President John F. Kennedy.
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"These are the men and women who in their extraordinary lives remind us all of the beauty of the human spirit, the values that define us as Americans, the potential that lives inside of all of us," Obama said during the ceremony, according to USA Today
Other recipients included country music artist Loretta Lynn, women's rights leader Gloria Steinem, baseball great Ernie Banks, former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, and pioneering astronaut Sally Ride.
Award recipients are people who have made meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Obama made comments about each of the nominees. He noted that Winfrey, who became the nation’s first black female billionaire, was told the same advice he received: Change your name.
She was told to go as "Susie," he said, the Chicago Tribune reported
Kennedy was scheduled to award the first 31 recipients two weeks after his fatal trip to Dallas. Still, the ceremony endured. More than 500 people have received the Medal of Freedom since then.
Presidents Obama and Clinton later traveled to Arlington National Cemetery for a ceremony at the eternal flame that marks Kennedy's grave. Friday is the 50th anniversary of his assassination.
Obama will also pay tribute to JFK at a dinner Wednesday night for current and past Medal of Freedom recipients, including baseball's Hank Aaron, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, singer Aretha Franklin, economist Alan Greenspan, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
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