Obama awards his final 21 Presidential Medals of Freedom

The highest civilian honour in America is given to recipients from a variety of fields for making outstanding contributions to the US and the world.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is given to people who make “especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavours.”

United States President Barack Obama on Tuesday awarded recipients his final 21 Presidential Medals of Freedom as his time in the White House draws to a close.

The nation’s highest civilian honour is given to those who make “especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the US, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavours,” the White House said in a statement.

"I always love doing this event," Obama said, "But this is a particularly impressive class."

This year's honorees come from a variety of fields and backgrounds.

'We've got innovators and artists, public servants, rabble rousers, athletes, renowned character actors - like the guy from Space Jam,'  said the President.

"It's useful when you think about this incredible collection of people to realise that this is what makes us the greatest nation on earth," Obama said.

American comedian Ellen DeGeneres was praised for her decades-long LGBT activism and for her contribution to US pop culture.

Barack Obama praised American comedian Ellen DeGeneres for her decades long activism in gay rights.

"What an incredible burden that was to bear - to risk your career like that - people don't do that very often. And then, to have the hopes of millions on your shoulders," Obama told DeGeneres.

Recipient List:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Abdul-Jabbar is a retired basketball player. He was a six-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a 19-time NBA All-Star. He is also a social justice advocate.

Elouise Cobell (posthumous)

Cobell was a leader in the Blackfeet Tribal community and launched campaigns for Native American self-determination and financial independence.  

Ellen DeGeneres 

DeGeneres is an award-winning comedian who has hosted her popular daytime talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, since 2003. DeGeneres came out as a lesbian on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1997 and is a long-time LGBT activist.

Robert De Niro

De Niro is an American actor and producer who is a seven-time Academy Award nominee and two-time Oscar winner, and a Kennedy Center honoree.

Richard Garwin

Garwin is a polymath physicist who made pioneering contributions to US defence and intelligence technologies. In 2003, he received the National Medal of Science, the US's highest honour in the fields of science and engineering.

Bill and Melinda Gates

The Gates established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, which aims to improve people's health, as well as help those suffering from hunger and extreme poverty to move out this cycle.  

Frank Gehry 

Gehry is a leading  architect whose works have helped define contemporary architecture. His best-known buildings are the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum building in Bilbao, Spain.

Margaret H. Hamilton

Hamilton is a mathematician and computer scientist whose works lead the development of on-board flight software for NASA's Apollo Moon missions.

Tom Hanks

Hanks is an American actor who has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor five times, and won for his work in the films Philadelphia and Forrest Gump.  He has advocated for social and environmental justice, and for veterans and their families.

Grace Hopper (posthumous)

Hopper was a computer scientist and US Navy Rear Admiral known as “the first lady of software,” whose works helped make coding languages more practical and accessible. She created the first compiler, which translates source code from one language to another.  

Michael Jordan

Jordan was one of the greatest American basketball players. During his career, he won six championships, five Most Valuable Player awards, and appeared in 14 All-Star games.

Maya Lin

Lin is an artist and designer who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. She is also an environmentalist who is bringing awareness to the planet's loss of habitat and biodiversity with her art works.

Lorne Michaels

Michaels is a producer and screenwriter who created and produces Saturday Night Live. He also produced the award winning The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and 30 Rock. Michaels has won 13 Emmy Awards during his career.

Newt Minow

Minow is an attorney who has served as a Chairman of the Federal Communications Committee (FCC). During his term he helped to shape the future of American television and was a vigorous advocate for broadcasting that promoted the public interest.

Eduardo Padrón

Padrón is the President of Miami Dade College (MDC), one of the largest institutions of higher education in the United States. During his career, Padrón worked to ensure all students have access to high quality, affordable education.

Robert Redford

Redford is an actor, director, producer, businessman, and environmentalist. Redford founded the Sundance Institute in 1981 to advance the work of independent filmmakers and storytellers, including through its annual Sundance Film Festival.

Diana Ross

Ross is an iconic singer, songwriter, actress and record producer. She received the Grammy Awards' highest honour, the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Vin Scully

Scully is a sportscaster who was the voice of the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers for 67 seasons. Scully's voice was known as the "soundtrack to summer"  by baseball fans.

Bruce Springsteen

Springsteen is a singer, songwriter, and band frontman, who helped shape American music. Springsteen is also a Kennedy Center honoree.

Cicely Tyson

Tyson is an actress who has won two Emmy Awards and a Tony Award for best leading actress. Tyson received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015.

TRTWorld and agencies