Medal of Freedom
"The Presidential Medal of Freedom is not just our nation's highest civilian honor—it's a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better. From scientists, philanthropists, and public servants to activists, athletes, and artists, these 21 individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way."
— President Obama
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, 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. The awards will be presented at the White House on November 22nd.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the National Basketball Association’s all-time leading scorer who helped lead the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships and the Milwaukee Bucks to another. During his career, Abdul-Jabbar was a six-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a 19-time NBA All-Star. Before joining the NBA, he was a star player at UCLA, leading the Bruins to three consecutive championships. In addition to his legendary basketball career, Abdul-Jabbar has been an outspoken advocate for social justice.
Elouise Cobell (posthumous)
Elouise Cobell was a Blackfeet Tribal community leader and an advocate for Native American self-determination and financial independence. She used her expertise in accounting to champion a lawsuit that resulted in a historic settlement, restoring tribal homelands to her beloved Blackfeet Nation and many other tribes, and in so doing, inspired a new generation of Native Americans to fight for the rights of others. Cobell helped found the Native American Bank, served as director of the Native American Community Development Corporation, and inspired Native American women to seek leadership roles in their communities.
Ellen DeGeneres is an award-winning comedian who has hosted her popular daytime talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, since 2003 with her trademarked humor, humility, and optimism. In 2003 Ellen lent her voice to a forgetful but unforgettable little fish named Dory in Finding Nemo. She reprised her role again in 2016 with the hugely successful Finding Dory. Ellen also hosted the Academy Awards twice, in 2007 and 2014. In 1997, after coming out herself, DeGeneres made TV history when her character on Ellen revealed she was a lesbian. In her work and in her life, she has been a passionate advocate for equality and fairness.
Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro has brought to life some of the most memorable roles in American film during a career that spans five decades. His first major film roles were in the sports drama Bang the Drum Slowly and Martin Scorsese's crime film Mean Streets. He is a seven-time Academy Award nominee and two-time Oscar winner, and is also a Kennedy Center honoree.
Richard Garwin is a polymath physicist who earned a Ph.D. under Enrico Fermi at age 21 and subsequently made pioneering contributions to U.S. defense and intelligence technologies, low-temperature and nuclear physics, detection of gravitational radiation, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer systems, laser printing, and nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. He directed Applied Research at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center and taught at the University of Chicago, Columbia University, and Harvard University. The author of 500 technical papers and a winner of the National Medal of Science, Garwin holds 47 U.S. patents, and has advised numerous administrations.
Bill and Melinda Gates
Bill and Melinda Gates established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, the foundation focuses on improving people's health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, the mission is to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. The Gates Foundation has provided more than $36 billion in grants since its inception.
Frank Gehry is one of the world’s leading architects, whose works have helped define contemporary architecture. His best-known buildings include the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Dancing House in Prague, and the Guggenheim Museum building in Bilbao, Spain.
Margaret H. Hamilton
Margaret H. Hamilton led the team that created the on-board flight software for NASA's Apollo command modules and lunar modules. A mathematician and computer scientist who started her own software company, Hamilton contributed to concepts of asynchronous software, priority scheduling and priority displays, and human-in-the-loop decision capability, which set the foundation for modern, ultra-reliable software design and engineering.
Tom Hanks is one of the Nation’s finest actors and filmmakers. He has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role five times, and received the award for his work in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Those roles and countless others, including in Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, and Cast Away, have left an indelible mark on American film. Off screen, as an advocate, Hanks has advocated for social and environmental justice, and for our veterans and their families.
Grace Hopper (posthumous)
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, known as "Amazing Grace" and "the first lady of software," was at the forefront of computers and programming development from the 1940s through the 1980s. Hopper’s work helped make coding languages more practical and accessible, and she created the first compiler, which translates source code from one language into another. She taught mathematics as an associate professor at Vassar College before joining the United States Naval Reserve as a lieutenant (junior grade) during World War II, where she became one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and began her lifelong leadership role in the field of computer science.
Michael Jordan is one of the greatest athletes of all time. Jordan played 15 seasons in the NBA for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards; he is currently a principal owner and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets. During his career, he won six championships, five Most Valuable Player awards, and appeared in 14 All-Star games.
Maya Lin is an artist and designer who is known for her work in sculpture and landscape art. She designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. and since then has pursued a celebrated career in both art and architecture. A committed environmentalist, Lin is currently working on a multi-sited artwork/memorial, What is Missing? bringing awareness to the planet's loss of habitat and biodiversity.
Lorne Michaels is a producer and screenwriter, best known for creating and producing Saturday Night Live, which has run continuously for more than 40 years. In addition, Michaels has also produced The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and 30 Rock, among other popular, award-winning shows. He has won 13 Emmy Awards over the course of his lengthy career.
Newt Minow is an attorney with a long and distinguished career in public life. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Minow served as a Supreme Court clerk and counsel to the Governor of Illinois. In 1961, President Kennedy selected Minow, then 34, to serve as Chairman of the Federal Communications Committee (FCC), where he helped shape the future of American television and was a vigorous advocate for broadcasting that promoted the public interest. In the five decades since leaving the FCC, Minow has maintained a prominent private law practice while devoting himself to numerous public and charitable causes.
Eduardo Padrón is the President of Miami Dade College (MDC), one of the largest institutions of higher education in the United States. During his more than four decade career, President Padrón has been a national voice for access and inclusion. He has worked to ensure all students have access to high quality, affordable education. He has championed innovative teaching and learning strategies making MDC a national model of excellence.
Robert Redford is an actor, director, producer, businessman, and environmentalist. In 1981, he founded the Sundance Institute to advance the work of independent filmmakers and storytellers throughout the world, including through its annual Sundance Film Festival. He has received an Academy Award for Best Director and for Lifetime Achievement. Redford has directed or starred in numerous motion pictures, including The Candidate, All the President's Men, Quiz Show, and A River Runs Through It.
Diana Ross has had an iconic career spanning more than 50 years within the entertainment industry in music, film, television, theater, and fashion. Diana Ross is an Academy Award nominee, inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and recipient of the Grammy Awards highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award. Ross was a recipient of the 2007 Kennedy Center Honors. Diana Ross’s greatest legacy is her five wonderful children.
Vin Scully is a broadcaster who, for 67 seasons, was the voice of the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. In Southern California, where generations of fans have grown up listening to Dodger baseball, Scully's voice is known as the "soundtrack to summer." In 1988, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Scully's signature voice brought to life key moments in baseball history, including perfect games by Sandy Koufax and Don Larsen, Kirk Gibson's home run in the 1988 World Series, and Hank Aaron's record-breaking 715th home run.
Bruce Springsteen is a singer, songwriter, and bandleader. More than five decades ago, he bought a guitar and learned how to make it talk. Since then, the stories he has told, in lyrics and epic live concert performances, have helped shape American music and have challenged us to realize the American dream. Springsteen is a Kennedy Center honoree and he and the E Street Band he leads have each been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Cicely Tyson has performed on the stage, on television, and on the silver screen. She has won two Emmy Awards and a Tony Award, and is known for her performances in Sounder, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, and The Help. In 2013, she returned to the stage with The Trip to the Bountiful, and was awarded the Tony Award for best leading actress. Tyson received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015.
Yogi Berra spent over 40 years as a professional baseball catcher, manager, and coach. Widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, Berra was an 18-time All-Star and 10-time World Series Champion who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. Berra, a lifelong ambassador for inclusion in sports, put his professional career on hold to join the Navy during World War II, where he fought with Allied forces on D-Day and eventually earned a Purple Heart.
Bonnie Carroll is a life-long public servant who has devoted her life to caring for our military and veterans. After her husband, Brigadier General Tom Carroll, died in an Army C-12 plane crash in 1992, Carroll founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which provides comprehensive support to those impacted by the death of their military hero, bringing healing comfort and compassionate care to the living legacies of our nation's service and sacrifice.
Shirley Chisholm made history in 1968 by becoming the first African-American woman elected to Congress, beginning the first of seven terms in the House of Representatives. In 1969 she became one of the founding members of what would become the Congressional Black Caucus. She also made history becoming the first major-party African-American female candidate to make a bid for the U.S. presidency. She was a champion of minority education and employment opportunities throughout her tenure in Congress.
Emilio Estefan is a passionate and visionary music producer, entrepreneur, author, and songwriter who has won nineteen Grammy Awards and influenced a generation of artists. As the founding member of the Miami Sound Machine, and later through a decades-long career producing and shaping the work of countless stars, Estefan has helped popularize Latin music around the world. He has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Gloria Estefan is a singer, songwriter, actor, and entrepreneur who introduced Latin music to a global audience. The Cuban-American lead singer of the Miami Sound Machine has had chart-topping hits such as “Conga,” “Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” and “Anything for You.” Estefan has won seven Grammy Awards and is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 100 million records worldwide. Estefan became one of the first mainstream Hispanic artists to crossover between English and Spanish language music.
Billy Frank, Jr.
Billy Frank, Jr. was a tireless advocate for Indian treaty rights and environmental stewardship. His activism paved the way for the “Boldt decision,” which reaffirmed tribal co-management of salmon resources in the state of Washington. Frank led effective “fish-ins,” modeled after sit-ins of the civil rights movement, during the tribal “fish wars” of the 1960s and 1970s. His magnetic personality and tireless advocacy over more than 50 years made him a revered figure both domestically and abroad.
Lee Hamilton has been one of the most influential voices on international relations and U.S. national security over the course of his career. From 1965 to 1999, he served Indiana in the U.S. House of Representatives, where his chairmanships included the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Since retiring from Congress, Hamilton has been involved in efforts to address some of our nation’s most high profile homeland security and foreign policy challenges.
Katherine G. Johnson
Katherine G. Johnson is a pioneer in American space history. A NASA mathematician, Johnson's computations have influenced every major space program from Mercury through the Shuttle program. Johnson was hired as a research mathematician at the Langley Research Center with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that preceded NASA, after they opened hiring to African-Americans and women.
Willie Mays was a professional baseball player, spending most of his 22 seasons as a center fielder for the New York and San Francisco Giants. Mays ended his career with 660 home runs, making him the fifth all-time record-holder. Known as “The Say Hey Kid,” Mays was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979 and landed on MLB’s All-Time team. In 1951, Mays became one of the first African-American players in Major League Baseball history and won the Rookie of the Year award. Mays also served in the U.S. Army.
Sen. Mikulski is a lifelong public servant who has held elected office since 1971. She became the longest serving female Senator in 2011, the longest serving woman in Congress in 2012, and the first female Senator to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee in 2012. Previously a social worker and community activist, she championed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and helped establish the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health to include women in federally-funded health research protocols.
Itzhak Perlman is a treasured conductor and sought-after teacher. A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18. In addition to performing internationally and recording the classical music for which he is best known, Mr. Perlman teaches talented young musicians through the Perlman Music Program alongside his wife Toby. Through his advocacy and his example, he has been an important voice on behalf of persons with disabilities.
William D. Ruckelshaus is a dedicated public servant who has worked tirelessly to protect public health and combat global challenges like climate change. As the first and fifth Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, he shaped the guiding principles of the agency. Among the EPA’s key early achievements under his leadership was a nationwide ban on the pesticide DDT and an agreement with the automobile industry to require catalytic converters, which significantly reduced automobile pollution.
Stephen Sondheim is one of the country’s most influential theater composers and lyricists. His work has helped define American theater with shows such as Company, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, and Into the Woods. Mr. Sondheim has won eight Grammy Awards, eight Tony Awards, an Academy Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Steven Spielberg is an American film director, producer, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. A three-time Academy Award winner, Spielberg is widely considered one of the most influential filmmakers in cinematic history. Spielberg is the co-founder of DreamWorks Studios as well as the founder of the USC Shoah Foundation, an organization dedicated to overcoming intolerance and bigotry through the use of visual history testimony.
Barbra Streisand is one of our nation's most gifted talents. Her body of work includes extraordinary singing, acting, directing, producing, songwriting, and she is one of the few performers to receive an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and a Tony. In 1984, she became the first woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Director. In 2009, she endowed the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, which works to correct gender inequality in the research of heart disease.
As a recording and touring artist, James Taylor has touched people with his warm baritone voice and distinctive style of guitar-playing for more than 40 years, while setting a precedent to which countless young musicians have aspired. Over the course of his celebrated songwriting and performing career, he has won multiple Grammy awards and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the prestigious Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Minoru Yasui was a civil and human rights leader known for his continuous defense of the ideals of democracy embodied in our Constitution. Yasui challenged the constitutionality of a military curfew order during World War II on the grounds of racial discrimination, and spent nine months in solitary confinement during the subsequent legal battle. In 1943, the Supreme Court upheld the military curfew order. Yasui spent the rest of his life appealing his wartime conviction.
Ailey was a choreographer, dancer, and the founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Ailey’s work was groundbreaking in its exploration of the African American experience and the enrichment of the modern dance tradition, including his beloved American masterpiece Revelations. The Ailey organization, based in New York City, carries on his pioneering legacy with performances, training, educational, and community programs for people of all backgrounds.
Isabel Allende is a highly acclaimed author of 21 books that have sold 65 million copies in 35 languages. She has been recognized with numerous awards internationally. She received the prestigious National Literary Award in Chile, her country of origin, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Tom Brokaw is one of America’s most trusted and respected journalists. Mr. Brokaw served as anchor of NBC Nightly News from 1982 to 2004. For decades, Mr. Brokaw has reached millions of Americans in living rooms across the country to provide depth and analysis to historic moments as they unfold, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the terrorist attacks of 9-11. His reporting has been recognized by the Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement Award, eleven Emmys, and two Peabody awards.
James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner
James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were civil rights activists and participants in “Freedom Summer,” an historic voter registration drive in 1964. As African Americans were systematically being blocked from voter rolls, Mr. Chaney, Mr. Goodman, and Mr. Schwerner joined hundreds of others working to register black voters in Mississippi. They were murdered at the outset of Freedom Summer. Their their efforts helped to inspire many of the landmark civil rights advancements that followed.
Mildred Dresselhaus is one of the most prominent physicists, materials scientists, and electrical engineers of her generation. A professor of physics and electrical engineering at MIT, she is best known for deepening our understanding of condensed matter systems and the atomic properties of carbon, which has contributed to major advances in electronics and materials research.
John Dingell is a lifelong public servant, the longest serving Member of Congress in American history, and one of the most influential legislators in history. Mr. Dingell has fought for landmark pieces of legislation over the past six decades, from civil rights legislation in the 1960s, to legislation protecting our environment in the 1970s, to his persistent fight for health care, from Medicare to the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Dingell also served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Ethel Kennedy has dedicated her life to advancing the cause of social justice, human rights, environmental protection, and poverty reduction by creating countless ripples of hope to effect change around the world. Over 45 years ago, she founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, which is dedicated to realizing her husband’s dream of a more just and peaceful world.
Suzan Harjo is a writer, curator, and activist who has advocated for improving the lives of Native peoples throughout her career. As a member of the Carter Administration and as current president of the Morning Star Institute, she has been a key figure in many important Indian legislative battles, including the passage of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Dr. Harjo is Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, and a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.
Abner Mikva is a dedicated public servant who has served with distinction in all three branches of government. He was a five-term Congressman from Illinois, Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and White House Counsel for President Bill Clinton. He has also served as a law professor at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois.
Patsy Takemoto Mink (posthumous)
Patsy Takemoto Mink was a Congresswoman from Hawai'i, serving a total of 12 terms. She was born and raised on Maui, became the first Japanese American female attorney in Hawai'i, and served in the Hawai'i territorial and state legislatures beginning in 1956. In 1964, she became the first woman of color elected to Congress. She is best known for co-authoring and championing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Edward Roybal (posthumous)
Edward R. Roybal was the first Mexican-American to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from California in nearly a century. In 1976, he founded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, creating a national forum for Latino issues and opening doors for a new generation of Latino leaders.
Charles Sifford was a professional golfer who helped to desegregate the Professional Golfers’ Association, despite harassment and death threats. He started his life on the links as a caddy and was formally excluded from the PGA for much of his career because of the color of his skin. In 1960, he won his challenge over the PGA’s “Caucasian only” membership policy and went on to win official PGA events and the PGA Seniors’ Championship. He was inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004.
Robert Solow is one of the most widely respected economists of the past sixty years. His research in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s transformed the field, laying the groundwork for much of modern economics. He continues to influence policy makers, demonstrating how smart investments, especially in new technology, can build broad-based prosperity, and he continues to actively participate in contemporary debates about inequality and economic growth. He won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1987.
Meryl Streep is one of the most widely known and acclaimed actors in history. Ms. Streep has captured our imaginations with her unparalleled ability to portray a wide range of roles and attract an audience that has only grown over time, portraying characters who embody the full range of the human experience. She holds the record for most Academy Award nominations of any actor in history.
Marlo Thomas is an award-winning actress, producer, best-selling author and social activist. Whether championing equality for girls and women, giving voice to the less fortunate, breaking barriers by portraying one of television’s first single working women on That Girl, or teaching children to be “Free to Be You and Me,” Thomas inspires us all to dream bigger and reach higher. Thomas serves as National Outreach Director for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Stevie Wonder is one of the world’s most gifted singer-songwriters. Mr. Wonder has created a sound entirely his own, mixing rhythm and blues with genres ranging from rock and roll to reggae, and demonstrating his mastery of a range of instruments, styles, and themes. He is also a Kennedy Center Honoree, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and winner of 25 Grammys and an Academy Award.
Known to many as “Mr. Cub,” Ernie Banks is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. During his 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, he played in 11 All-Star Games, hit over 500 home runs, and became the first National League player to win Most Valuable Player honors in back-to-back years. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year of eligibility.
Ben Bradlee is one of the most respected newsmen of his generation. During his tenure as executive editor of The Washington Post, Mr. Bradlee oversaw coverage of the Watergate scandal, successfully challenged the Federal Government over the right to publish the Pentagon Papers, and guided the newspaper through some of its most challenging moments. He also served in the Navy during World War II.
President Clinton was the 42nd President of the United States. Before taking office, he served as Governor and Attorney General of the State of Arkansas. Following his second term, President Clinton established the Clinton Foundation to improve global health, strengthen economies, promote health and wellness, and protect the environment. He also formed the Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund with President George W. Bush in 2010.
Daniel Inouye was a lifelong public servant. As a young man, he fought in World War II with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, for which he received the Medal of Honor. He was later elected to the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate. Senator Inouye was the first Japanese American to serve in Congress, representing the people of Hawaii from the moment they joined the Union.
Daniel Kahneman is a pioneering scholar of psychology. After escaping Nazi occupation in World War II, Dr. Kahneman immigrated to Israel, where he served in the Israel Defense Forces and trained as a psychologist. Alongside Amos Tversky, he applied cognitive psychology to economic analysis, laying the foundation for a new field of research and earning the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002. He is currently a professor at Princeton University.
Richard Lugar represented Indiana in the United States Senate for more than 30 years. An internationally respected statesman, he is best known for his bipartisan leadership and decades-long commitment to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. Prior to serving in Congress, Senator Lugar was a Rhodes Scholar and Mayor of Indianapolis from 1968 to 1975. He currently serves as President of the Lugar Center.
Loretta Lynn is a country music legend. Raised in rural Kentucky, she emerged as one of the first successful female country music vocalists in the early 1960s, courageously breaking barriers in an industry long dominated by men. Ms. Lynn’s numerous accolades include the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.
Mario Molina is a visionary chemist and environmental scientist. Born in Mexico, Dr. Molina came to America to pursue his graduate degree. He later earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering how chlorofluorocarbons deplete the ozone layer. Dr. Molina is a professor at the University of California, San Diego; Director of the Mario Molina Center for Energy and Environment; and a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Sally Ride was the first American female astronaut to travel to space. As a role model to generations of young women, she advocated passionately for science education, stood up for racial and gender equality in the classroom, and taught students from every background that there are no limits to what they can accomplish. Dr. Ride also served in several administrations as an advisor on space exploration.
Bayard Rustin was an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.
Arturo Sandoval is a celebrated jazz trumpeter, pianist, and composer. Born outside Havana, he became a protégé of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie and gained international acclaim as a dynamic performer. He defected to the United States in 1990 and later became an American citizen. He has been awarded nine Grammy Awards and is widely considered one of the greatest living jazz artists.
Dean Smith was head coach of the University of North Carolina basketball team from 1961 to 1997. In those 36 years, he earned 2 national championships, was named National Coach of the Year multiple times, and retired as the winningest men’s college basketball coach in history. Ninety-six percent of his players graduated from college. Mr. Smith has also remained a dedicated civil rights advocate throughout his career.
Gloria Steinem is a renowned writer and activist for women’s equality. She was a leader in the women’s liberation movement, co-founded Ms. magazine, and helped launch a wide variety of groups and publications dedicated to advancing civil rights. Ms. Steinem has received dozens of awards over the course of her career, and remains an active voice for women’s rights.
C.T. Vivian is a distinguished minister, author, and organizer. A leader in the Civil Rights Movement and friend to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he participated in Freedom Rides and sit-ins across our country. Dr. Vivian also helped found numerous civil rights organizations, including Vision, the National Anti-Klan Network, and the Center for Democratic Renewal. In 2012, he returned to serve as interim President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Patricia Wald is one of the most respected appellate judges of her generation. After graduating as 1 of only 11 women in her Yale University Law School class, she became the first woman appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and served as Chief Judge from 1986-1991. She later served on the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. Ms. Wald currently serves on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
Oprah Winfrey is one of the world's most successful broadcast journalists. She is best known for creating The Oprah Winfrey Show, which became the highest rated talk show in America for 25 years. Ms. Winfrey has long been active in philanthropic causes and expanding opportunities for young women. She has received numerous awards throughout her career, including the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2002 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2010.
From 1997 to 2001, Albright served as the 64th United States Secretary of State, the first woman to hold that position. During her tenure, she worked to enlarge NATO and helped lead its campaign against terror and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, pursued peace in the Middle East and Africa, sought to reduce the dangerous spread of nuclear weapons, and was a champion of democracy, human rights, and good governance across the globe. From 1993 to 1997, she was America’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
Doar was a legendary public servant and leader of federal efforts to protect and enforce civil rights during the 1960s. He served as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. He was instrumental during many major civil rights crises, including preventing a riot in Jackson, Mississippi following the funeral of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evars in 1963. Doar also led the effort to enforce the right to vote and implement the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Bob Dylan is one of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century. Releasing his first album in 1962, his work influenced the civil rights movement of the 1960s and has had significant impact on American culture over the past five decades. He has won 11 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award. He has written more than 600 songs, and his songs have been recorded more than 3,000 times by other artists.
A physician and epidemiologist, Foege helped lead the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. He was appointed Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1977 and, with colleagues, founded the Task Force for Child Survival in 1984. Foege’s leadership has contributed significantly to increased awareness and action on global health issues, and his enthusiasm, energy, and effectiveness in these endeavors have inspired a generation of leaders in public health.
Glenn is a former United States Marine Corps pilot, astronaut, and United States Senator. In 1962, he was the third American in space and the first American to orbit the Earth. After retiring from the Marine Corps, Glenn was elected to the U.S. Senate in Ohio in 1974. He was an architect and sponsor of the 1978 Nonproliferation Act and served as Chairman of the Senate Government Affairs committee from 1987 until 1995. In 1998, Glenn became the oldest person to visit space at the age of 77.
Hirabayashi openly defied the forced relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. As an undergraduate at the University of Washington, he refused the order to report for evacuation to an internment camp, instead turning himself in to the FBI to assert his belief that these practices were racially discriminatory. Consequently, he was convicted by a U.S. Federal District Court in Seattle of defying the exclusion order and violating curfew.
Huerta is a civil rights, workers, and women’s advocate. With Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the National Farmworkers Association in 1962, which later became the United Farm Workers of America. Huerta has served as a community activist and a political organizer, and was influential in securing the passage of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, and disability insurance for farmworkers in California.
Karski served as an officer in the Polish Underground during World War II and carried among the first eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust to the world. He worked as a courier, entering the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi Izbica transit camp, where he saw first-hand the atrocities occurring under Nazi occupation. Karski later traveled to London to meet with the Polish government-in-exile and with British government officials. He subsequently traveled to the United States and met with President Roosevelt.
Juliette Gordon Low
Low founded the Girl Scouts in 1912. The organization strives to teach girls self-reliance and resourcefulness. It also encourages girls to seek fulfillment in the professional world and to become active citizens in their communities. Since 1912, the Girl Scouts has grown into the largest educational organization for girls and has had over 50 million members.
One of our nation’s most celebrated novelists, Morrison is renowned for works such as Song of Solomon, Jazz, and Beloved, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988. When she became the first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1993, Morrison’s citation captured her as an author “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”
An ardent advocate for Israel's security and for peace, Peres was elected the ninth President of Israel in 2007. First elected to the Knesset in 1959, he has served in a variety of positions throughout the Israeli government, including as Prime Minister from 1984-1986 and 1995-1996. Along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Peres won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his work as Foreign Minister during the Middle East peace talks that led to the Oslo Accords.
John Paul Stevens
Stevens served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010, when he retired as the third longest-serving Justice in the Court’s history. Known for his independent, pragmatic and rigorous approach to judging, Justice Stevens and his work have left a lasting imprint on the law in areas such as civil rights, the First Amendment, the death penalty, administrative law, and the separation of powers.
In addition to accomplishing an outstanding career as the all-time winningest leader among all NCAA basketball coaches, Summitt has taken the University of Tennessee to more Final Four appearances than any other coach and has the second best record of NCAA Championships in basketball. Off the court, she has been a spokesperson against Alzheimer's.
Robert M. Gates
Dr. Robert M. Gates served as U.S. Secretary of Defense from December 2006 to July 2011. Dr. Gates was the only Secretary of Defense in U.S. history to be asked to remain in that office by a newly elected President. President Barack Obama was the eighth president Dr. Gates served. In 1967 he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and served as an intelligence officer at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.
President George H. W. Bush
George Herbert Walker Bush was the 41st President of the United States. Prior to that, he was Vice President in the Reagan Administration, Director of Central Intelligence, Chief of the U.S. Liaison’s Office to the People’s Republic of China, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He served in the Navy during World War II. President Bush and President Clinton worked together to encourage aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.
Chancellor Angela Merkel
Merkel is the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. She is the first woman and first East German to serve as Chancellor of a unified Germany. Her political career began when she joined the new Democratic Awakening party in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1990, as West and East Germany merged into one reunited country, her party joined with the Christian Democratic Union, and she was elected to the German parliament.
Congressman John Lewis
Lewis is an American hero and a giant of the civil rights movement. He served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington. In May 1961, he participated in the initial Freedom Ride, during which he endured violent attacks in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and Montgomery, Alabama. Since 1987, John Lewis has continued his service to the nation as the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th District.
John H. Adams
John H. Adams co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970. Adams served as Executive Director and, later, as president of the nonprofit environmental advocacy group until 2006. His tenure is unparalleled by the leader of any other environmental organization.
Dr. Maya Angelou is a prominent and celebrated author, poet, educator, producer, actress, filmmaker, and civil rights activist, who is currently the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University. She has served on two presidential committees, was awarded the Presidential Medal for the Arts in 2000 and the Lincoln Medal in 2008.
Warren Buffett is an American investor, industrialist, and philanthropist. He is one of the most successful investors in the world. Often called the “legendary investor Warren Buffett,” he is the primary shareholder, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. He is a co-founder of The Giving Pledge, an organization that encourages wealthy Americans to devote at least 50 percent of their net worth to philanthropy.
American artist Jasper Johns has produced a distinguished body of work dealing with themes of perception and identity since the mid-1950s. Among his best known works are depictions of familiar objects and signs, including flags, targets and numbers. He has incorporated innovative approaches to materials and techniques, and his work has influenced pop, minimal, and conceptual art.
Gerda Weissmann Klein
Weissmann Klein is a Jewish Holocaust survivor who has written several books about her experiences. After Nazi Germany took over her homeland of Poland, Klein was separated from both her parents: they were sent to Auschwitz and she to a series of labor and concentration camps. In 1945, she was sent on a forced 350-mile death march to avoid the advance of Allied forces. She was one of the minority who survived the forced journey.
Dr. Tom Little (Posthumous)
Dr. Little was an optometrist who was brutally murdered on August 6, 2010, by the Taliban in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan, Afghanistan, along with nine other members of a team returning from a humanitarian mission to provide vision care in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan. Dr. Little and his wife, Libby, lived and worked in Afghanistan for three decades, providing vision, dental and mother/child care to Afghans.
Yo-Yo Ma is considered the world’s greatest living cellist, recognized as a prodigy since the age of five whose celebrity transcends the world of classical music. Born in Paris, Ma made his Carnegie Hall debut at age nine. He was the recipient of the Avery Fisher Prize in 1978, and, in 1991, Harvard awarded him an honorary doctorate in music. He serves as Artistic Director of the Silk Road Project, and has won sixteen Grammy awards.
Sylvia Mendez is a civil rights activist of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. As an eight-year-old, her parents attempted to enroll Mendez in an all-white school in their community, but were denied entry at and were told to go to the school for Mexican children. Her father and other parents sued and prevailed. The Mendez v. Westminster case was a landmark decision in the civil rights movement against segregation.
Stan “The Man” Musial is a baseball legend and Hall of Fame first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. Musial played 22 seasons for the Cardinals from 1941 to 1963. A 24-time All-Star selection, Musial accumulated 3,630 hits and 475 home runs during his career, was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player three times, and was a member of three World Series championship teams. Musial also served as the Cardinals’ general manager in 1967, when the team once again won the World Series.
Russell is the former Boston Celtics’ Captain who almost single-handedly redefined the game of basketball. Russell led the Celtics to a virtually unparalleled string of eleven championships in thirteen years and was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player five times. The first African American to coach in the NBA, Bill Russell is also an impassioned advocate of human rights. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and has been a consistent advocate of equality.
Jean Kennedy Smith
In 1974, Jean Kennedy Smith founded VSA, a non-profit organization affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center that promotes the artistic talents of children, youth and adults with disabilities. From 1993 to 1998, Smith served as U. S. Ambassador to Ireland, and played a pivotal role in the peace process. Smith is the youngest daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and is the Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Kennedy Center.
John J. Sweeney
John J. Sweeney is the current President Emeritus of the AFL-CIO, and served as President of the AFL-CIO from 1995 to 2009. The son of Irish immigrants, a domestic worker and a bus driver in the Bronx, he worked his way up in the labor movement to become President of the Service Employees International Union, growing the union to serve as a strong voice for working people. As President of the AFL-CIO, he revitalized the American labor movement, emphasizing union organizing and social justice, and was a powerful advocate for America’s workers.
Nancy Goodman Brinker
Goodman Brinker is the founder of Susan G. Komen, the world’s leading breast cancer organization. Brinker established the organization in memory of her sister, who passed away from breast cancer. Through events like Race for the Cure, the organization has given and invested over $1.3 billion for research, health services and education services since its founding in 1982 and developed a worldwide grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists working together to ensure quality care for all.
Pedro José Greer, Jr.
Dr. Pedro Jose Greer is a physician and the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at the Florida International University School of Medicine. Dr. Greer is the founder of Camillus Health Concern, an agency that provides medical care to over 10,000 homeless patients a year in the city of Miami. He is also the founder and medical director of the St. John Bosco Clinic which provides basic primary medical care to disadvantaged children and adults in the Little Havana community.
Hawking is an internationally-recognized theoretical physicist who has a severe physical disability due to motor neuron disease. He is the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, a post previously held by Isaac Newton in 1669. In addition to his pioneering academic research in mathematics and physics, Hawking has penned three popular science books, including the bestselling A Brief History of Time.
Jack Kemp, who passed away in May 2009, served as a U.S. Congressman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Republican nominee for Vice President. Prior to entering public service, Kemp was a professional football player (1957 – 1969) and led the Buffalo Bills to American Football League championships in 1964 and 1965. In Congress and as a Cabinet Secretary, Kemp was a self-described "bleeding heart conservative" who worked to encourage development in underserved urban communities.
Sen. Edward Kennedy
Senator Kennedy served in the United States Senate for forty-six years and was been one of the greatest lawmakers of our time. From reforming our public schools to strengthening civil rights laws and supporting working Americans, Senator Kennedy has dedicated his career to fighting for equal opportunity, fairness and justice for all Americans. He called health care reform the "cause of his life," and championed nearly every health care bill enacted by Congress over the course of the last five decades.
Billie Jean King
King was an acclaimed professional tennis player in the 1960s and 1970s, and has helped champion gender equality issues not only in sports, but in all areas of public life. King beat Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match, then the most viewed tennis match in history. King became one of the first openly lesbian major sports figures in America when she came out in 1981. King became the first woman commissioner in professional sports when she co-founded the World Team Tennis League.
Rev. Joseph Lowery
Rev. Lowery has been a leader in the U.S. civil rights movement since the early 1950s. He headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, the organization which led the Movement to desegregate buses and public accommodations. Rev. Lowery later co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading civil rights organization, with Dr. Martin Luther King, and was chosen by Dr. King to Chair the Delegation delivering the demands of the Selma-to-Montgomery March to Alabama Governor George Wallace.
Joe Medicine Crow – High Bird
Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, the last living Plains Indian war chief, is the author of seminal works in Native American history and culture. He is the last person alive to have received direct oral testimony from a participant in the Battle of the Little Bighorn: his grandfather was a scout for General George Armstrong Custer. A veteran of World War II, Medicine Crow was the first member of his tribe to attend college, receiving his master’s degree in anthropology in 1939.
Milk became the first openly gay elected official from a major city in the United States when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk encouraged lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens to live their lives openly so they could change society and achieve social equality. Milk was shot and killed in 1978. Milk is revered nationally and globally as a pioneer of the LGBT civil rights movement for his exceptional leadership and dedication to equal rights.
Sandra Day O’Connor
Justice O’Connor was the first woman ever to sit on the United States Supreme Court. Nominated by President Reagan in 1981, she served until her retirement in 2006. Prior to joining the Supreme Court, she served as a member of the Arizona state senate, where she became the first woman in the country to lead a state senate as Senate Majority Leader. At a time when women rarely entered the legal profession, O’Connor graduated Stanford Law School third in her class and served on the Stanford Law Review.
Poitier was the first African American to be nominated and win a Best Actor Academy Award, receive an award at a top international film festival (Venice Film Festival), and be the top grossing movie star in the United States. Poitier starred in the first mainstream movies portraying "acceptable" interracial marriages and interracial kissing. Poitier began his acting career without any training or experience by auditioning at the American Negro Theatre.
Rivera is an accomplished and versatile actress, singer, and dancer, who has won Two Tony Awards and received seven nominations while breaking barriers and inspiring a generation of women to follow in her footsteps. In 2002, she became the first Hispanic recipient of the Kennedy Center Honor. Propelled to stardom by her performance as Anita in the original Broadway premiere of West Side Story, Rivera went on to star in additional landmark musicals such as Chicago, Bye Bye Birdie, and Jerry’s Girls.
Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Robinson served as a prominent member of the Irish Senate prior to her election as President. Since 2002 she has been President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, based in New York, which is an organization she founded to make human rights the compass which charts a course for globalization that is fair, just and benefits all.
Janet Davison Rowley
Janet Davison Rowley, M.D., is an American human geneticist and the first scientist to identify a chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers. Rowley is internationally renowned for her studies of chromosome abnormalities in human leukemia and lymphoma, which have led to dramatically improved survival rates for previously incurable cancers and the development of targeted therapies.
Desmond Tutu is an Anglican Archbishop emeritus who was a leading anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. Widely regarded as "South Africa's moral conscience," he served as the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches from 1978 – 1985, where he led a formidable crusade in support of justice and racial reconciliation in South Africa. He received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work through SACC in 1984.
Dr. Muhammad Yunus is a global leader in anti-poverty efforts and has pioneered the use of "micro-loans" to provide credit to poor individuals without collateral. Dr. Yunus, an economist by training, founded the Grameen Bank in 1983 in his native Bangladesh to provide small, low-interest loans to the poor to help better their livelihood and communities. Dr. Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work.