Sixteen individuals were named recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom today, including media mogul Oprah Winfrey, veteran Washington Post journalist Ben Bradlee, former President Bill Clinton, and country singer Loretta Lynn. The award established 50 years ago by President Kennedy is the country’s highest civilian honor given to Americans who’ve made contributions “to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” Winfrey’s honor comes just a week before she takes to screens in the White House drama Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
Also named among this year’s honorees: Baseball player Ernie Banks, Senator Daniel Inouye (posthumous), Nobel Prize-winning scholar Daniel Kahneman, Senator Richard Lugar, Nobel Prize-winning chemist and environmental scientist Mario Molina, astronaut Sally Ride (posthumous), civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (posthumous), jazz musician Arturo Sandoval, ex-UNC basketball coach Dean Smith, Gloria Steinem, civil rights leader Cordy Tindell “C.T.” Vivian, and Judge Patricia Wald. “The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours,” said President Obama. “This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation’s gratitude.”