Music icon Bob Dylan, wearing sunglasses, and Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state, were among 13 people honored today as President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom.
“What sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they have had on so many people, not in short blinding bursts but steadily over the course of a lifetime,” Obama said during a ceremony at the White House. He said that “so many of these people are my heroes individually.”
The medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor. It is presented to people for “especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the U.S., to world peace or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres, who will receive his award at a separate event Obama is hosting next month at the White House, was among the honorees. Obama said Peres “has done more for the cause of peace in the Middle East than just about anybody alive.”
Obama also honored former astronaut and Ohio Senator John Glenn, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the third longest-serving justice in history, and John Doar, a lawyer who played key roles in the civil rights era and Watergate investigation.
Morrison and Dylan
From the arts, Obama included novelist Toni Morrison, the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, and Dylan, who has written more than 600 songs.
The president also honored epidemiologist William Foege, who helped lead the 1970s effort to eliminate smallpox; farmworker organizer Dolores Huerta, who helped found the group that became the United Farmworkers of America, and Pat Summitt, the former University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach and Alzheimer’s patient advocate.
Awards were given posthumously to Jan Karski, the Polish officer who provided the world some of the first accounts of the Holocaust, Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low and Gordon Hirabayashi, who protested Japanese-American internment during World War II.
Obama recalled “my world opening up” listening to Dylan while in college, while reading Morrison’s book “Song of Solomon” in his youth helped him figure out how to write and “also how to be, and how to think.”