Washington: US President Barack Obama has honoured Bill and Melinda Gates along with 20 other luminaries with the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom honour, who inspired him over the years and "helped make me who I am."
"Wednesday, we celebrate extraordinary Americans who have lifted our spirits, strengthened our union, pushed us toward progress," Obama said, as he presented the prestigious presidential medal of freedom to 21 people.
"Everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, personal way, in ways that they probably couldn't imagine," said the outgoing US president.
In addition to Bill and Melinda Gates, other prominent recipients to this award were Margaret H Hamilton, who led the team that created the on-board flight software for NASA's Apollo command modules and lunar modules; Ellen DeGeneres, an award-winning comedian; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who is the National Basketball Association's all-time leading scorer.
Richard Garwin, a polymath physicist; and Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, known as "Amazing Grace" and "the first lady of software," was at the forefront of computers and programming development from the 1940s through the 1980s.
"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. These two have donated more money to charitable causes than anyone, ever," Obama said in his remarks on the occasion.
Frank Gehry, one of the world's leading architects, whose works have helped define contemporary architecture, Obama said, he has never let popular acclaim reverse his impulse to defy convention.
"I was an outsider from the beginning," he says, "so for better or worse, I thrived on it."
"He's spent his life rethinking shapes and mediums, seemingly the force of gravity itself; the idea of what architecture could be he decided to upend constantly repurposing every material available, from titanium to a paper towel tube," Obama said.
"Three minutes before Armstrong and Aldrin touched down on the moon, Apollo 11's lunar lander alarms triggered red and yellow lights across the board.
"Our astronauts didn't have much time. But thankfully, they had Margaret Hamilton.
A young MIT scientist and a working mom in the 60s, Margaret led the team that created the onboard flight software that allowed the Eagle to land safely," Obama said.
Luckily for us, Margaret never stopped pioneering.
And she symbolises the generation of unsung women who helped send humankind into space," he said.
"If Wright is flight and Edison is light, then Hopper is code. Born in 1906, Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper followed her mother into mathematics, earned her PhD from Yale, and set out on a long and storied career."
At age 37, and a full 15 pounds below military guidelines, the gutsy and colorful Grace joined the Navy and was sent to work on one of the first computers, Harvard's "Mark One."
"While the women who pioneered software were often overlooked, the most prestigious award for young computer scientists now bear her name. From cell phones to cyber command, we can thank Grace Hopper for opening programming to millions more people," Obama said.
Obama also honored five of the all-time greats in sports and music.