Obama Awards 2012 Presidential Medal of Freedom

“We could fill this room many times over with people who are talented and driven.  What sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they’ve had on so many people,” said President Obama today at the White House.  “It’s our job to let them know how extraordinary their impact has been on our lives.”

In an afternoon ceremony today, the President presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the thirteen 2012 winners.  The US’s highest civilian honor was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and is historically presented “to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” as the White House describes it.

“These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our nation. They’ve challenged us, they’ve inspired us, and they’ve made the world a better place. I look forward to recognizing them with this award,” President Obama said in a statement.

This years list is full of American icons from the world of politics and culture: astronaut John Glenn, Pat Summitt, the most successful basketball coach in NCAA history, Madeline Albright, and even 11-time Grammy award winner Bob Dylan.

Here’s the full list:

Madeline Albright was the first woman to hold the top U.S. diplomatic job, appointed to be U.S. Secretary of State by President Bill Clinton.

John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth, and the third American in space.  He is also a former marine corps pilot, and of course, a former US senator.

Pat Summitt led the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team to more NCAA Final Four appearances than any other team.  Also interesting: Summitt is the second woman in sports to win this award — the first was Billie Jean King.

Bob Dylan – need we say anything about the great Bob Dylan?  His huge catalog of classic songs like “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” are on our summer (and winter) soundtracks every year.  He has won 11 Grammy awards, and written over 600 songs.

Toni Morrison, the incredible Pulizter-prize winning author of such novels as “Song of Solomon” and “Beloved.”  She was also the first African American woman to win the Nobel prize.

John Paul Stevens, former Supreme Court Justice.  He is the third-longest serving justice in Supreme Court history, and a veteran of World War II, where he was awarded the Bronze Star for his work as a naval intelligence officer.

Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts in 1912, which is now the largest educational organization for girls in the U.S. This award is presented posthumously, as Low died in 1927.  It is the 100th anniversary of the organization.

Shimon Peres, the ninth president of Israel. He also won the 1994 Nobel prize for his efforts in the Middle East peace talks that led to the Oslo accords.

John Doar, who handled civil rights cases as assistant attorney general in the 1960s.

William Foege, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who helped lead the effort to eradicate smallpox.

Gordon Hirabayashi, who fought the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Jan Karski, a resistance fighter against the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II.  As The Guardian described her, “Karski served as an officer in the Polish Underground during the second world war and carried one of the first eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust to the world.” He became US citizen in 1954 and taught at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service before he died in 2000.

Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers of America.