U,S. President Barack Obama presents the country's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, to 16 recipients, including physicist Stephen Hawking, professional tennis player Billy Jean King and South African anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (AUGUST 12, 2009)- Calling them "agents of change," U.S. President Barack Obama presented the country's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, to 16 people on Wednesday (August 12).
The recipients represented various fields, including civil rights, politics and sports and included physicist Stephen Hawking, professional tennis player Billy Jean King and South African anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
"These extraordinary men and women, these agents of change, remind us that excellence is not beyond our abilities, that hope lies around the corner and that justice can still be won in the forgotten corners of this world," Obama said.
Obama bestowed the awards at a ceremony held in the East Room of the White House.
Other recipients included Nancy Goodman Brinker, founder of the breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen for the Cure, physician and Assistant Dean of the Academic Affairs at the Florida International University School of Medicine Pedro Jose Greer, Jr., former U.S. Congressman and Republican nominee for Vice President Jack Kemp, U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, civil rights leader Reverend Joseph Lowery, Native American chief Joseph Medicine Crow, one of the United States' first openly homosexual elected official Harvey Milk, the first women named to the U.S. Supreme Court Sandra Day O'Connor, actor Sidney Poitier, actress, singer and dancer Chita Rivera, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, human geneticist Janet Davison Rowley, M.D. and microfinance pioneer and Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus.
Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer and mourning the death of his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, did not attend the ceremony. Kemp and Milk received their awards posthumously.
The Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals who make a significant contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors, according to a press release from the White House.