President Obama on Wednesday presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian honor, to 16 actors, athletes, activists, scientists and humanitarians.
Among those honored at a White House ceremony were former Irish president and U.N. human rights commissioner Mary Robinson, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and British physicist Stephen Hawking.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is getting the medal, too, but the Massachusetts Democrat was not at the White House due to his fight against brain cancer. His daughter, Kara Kennedy, received the medal for her father.
"The truest test of a person's life is what he we do for one another," Obama said in making the award to "these agents of change."
They range from Sidney Poitier, the first black man to win an Oscar; to Billie Jean Moffitt King, a pioneer in tennis, womens' rights and gays rights; to Kennedy.
The White House released these remarks on all the honorees:
—Drawing strength from tragedy, Nancy Goodman Brinker has transformed the nation's approach to breast cancer. When her sister was diagnosed in 1977, most breast cancer victims knew relatively little about the disease and suffered from popular stigmas. Nancy G. Brinker promised to challenge these norms. She founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure in honor of her sister, and today, the organization supports research and community awareness programs across the United States and around the world. Nancy G. Brinker's unique passion and determination have been a blessing to all those whose lives have been touched by breast cancer.
—Dr. Pedro Jose "Joe" Greer Jr. has devoted his career to improving medical services for the uninsured. A native of Miami, he followed his passion for helping others to medical school and founded the Camillus Health Concern (CHC) in 1984 as a medical intern. Today, CHC treats thousands of homeless patients a year, serving as a model clinic for the poor and inspiring physicians everywhere to work with indigent populations. Dr. Greer's tremendous contributions to the South Florida community and our nation as a whole stand as a shining example of the difference one person can make in the lives of many.
—Persistent in his pursuit of knowledge, Stephen Hawking has unlocked new pathways of discovery and inspired people around the world. He has dedicated his life to exploring the fundamental laws that govern the universe, and he has contributed to some of the greatest scientific discoveries of our time. His work has stirred the imagination of experts and lay persons alike. Living with a disability and possessing an uncommon ease of spirit, Stephen Hawking's attitude and achievements inspire hope, intellectual curiosity and respect for the tremendous power of science.
—A statesman and a sports icon, Jack French Kemp advocated for his beliefs with an unwavering integrity and intellectual honesty. On the football field, he earned the respect and admiration of his teammates for his judgment and leadership. As a public servant, he placed country before party, and ideas before ideology. Jack Kemp saw bridges where others saw divisions, and his legacy serves as a shining example for all who strive to challenge conventional wisdom, stay true to themselves and better our nation.