Washington: US President Barack Obama honoured political and cultural icons -- including former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, astronaut John Glenn, Israeli president Shimon Peres and rock legend Bob Dylan -- with the Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony on Tuesday.
The Medal of Freedom is highest civilian US honour. It's presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the national interests of the United States, to world peace or to other significant endeavours.
In awarding the nation's highest civilian honour to 13 recipients, living and dead, the President took note of the overflowing crowd in the East Room and said it was "a testament to how cool this group is. Everybody wanted to check 'em out".
Obama then spoke of his personal connection to a number of this year's recipients, calling them "my heroes individually".
"I know how they impacted my life," the President said. He recalled reading Morrison's "Song of Solomon" in his youth and "not just trying to figure out how to write, but also how to be and how to think".
Recipients this year also included:
Gordon Hirabayashi, who fought the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II
Jan Karski, a resistance fighter against the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II
Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers of America
Toni Morrison, author of such novels as "Song of Solomon" and "Beloved”
John Paul Stevens, former Supreme Court Justice
Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts
Pat Summitt, who led the University of Tennessee women's basketball team to more NCAA Final Four appearances than any other team
John Doar, who handled civil rights cases as assistant attorney general in the 1960s
William Foege, former director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, who helped lead the effort to eradicate smallpox
Albright was the first woman to hold the top US diplomatic job, while Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth. And Dylan's vast catalogue of songs includes such rock classics as "Like a Rolling Stone”, "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Mr Tambourine Man”.
(With PTI inputs)
First Published: Wednesday, May 30, 2012, 08:59