Obama honors 'agents of change'

—Sandra Day O'Connor has paved the way for millions of women to achieve their dreams. Completing law school in just two years, she graduated third in her class at a time when women rarely entered the legal profession. With grace and humor, tenacity and intelligence, she rose to become the first woman on the United States Supreme Court. Her historic 25-term tenure on the court was defined by her integrity and independence, and she has earned the nation's lasting gratitude for her invaluable contributions to history and the law.

—Ambassador and actor, Sidney Poitier has left an indelible mark on American culture. Rising from the tomato farms of the Bahamas, his talent led him to Broadway, Hollywood and global acclaim. In front of black and white audiences struggling to right the nation's moral compass, Sidney Poitier brought us the common tragedy of racism, the inspiring possibility of reconciliation, and the simple joys of everyday life. Ultimately, the man would mirror the character, and both would advance the nation's dialogue on race and respect.

—From stage to screen, Chita Rivera has captured America's imagination with her magnetic presence and radiant voice. Over a career that has spanned a half-century, she has received numerous accolades for her performances, including two Tony Awards, six additional Tony nominations, and the Kennedy Center Honors Award. As fearless as Anita in West Side Story, and as self-reliant as Aurora in Kiss of the Spider Woman, she has broken barriers under Broadway's lights and inspired a generation of women to follow in her remarkable footsteps. The United States honors Chita Rivera for her lifetime of achievement as one of America's great artists.

—For Mary Robinson, the fight to end discrimination and suffering is an urgent moral imperative. She has been a trail-blazing crusader for women's rights in Ireland and a forceful advocate for equality and human rights around the world. Whether courageously visiting conflict-stricken regions, or working to inject concern for human rights into business and economic development, Mary Robinson continues this important work today, urging citizens and nations to make common cause for justice.

—Dr. Janet Davison Rowley was the first scientist to identify a chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers — considered among the most important medical breakthroughs of the past century. After enrolling at the University of Chicago at age 15, she went on to challenge the conventional medical wisdom about the cause of cancer in the 1970s, which had placed little emphasis on chromosomal abnormalities. Her work has proven enormously influential to researchers worldwide who have used her discovery to identify genes that cause fatal cancers and to develop targeted therapies that have revolutionized cancer care. The United States honors this distinguished scientist for advancing genetic research and the understanding of our most devastating diseases.

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