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Tuesday
Feb152011

'The Best of Who We Are': Obama Honors Medal of Freedom Recipients

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Calling them a group of people who “reveal the best of who we are, and who we aspire to be,” President Obama honored fifteen people with the Medal of Freedom in an East Room ceremony Tuesday.

The Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor presented to people 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.”

“When you look at the men and women who are here today, it says something about who we are as a people,” President Obama said Tuesday afternoon.

Fifteen people were honored, one posthumously. They included sportsmen, civil rights leaders, poets, politicians, cellists and a former president. President Obama took a moment to honor each person -- with a touching anecdote from their life and spoke about the broader effect they’ve had on the world.

For Maya Angelou, the president said, she “found her voice,” after enduring trauma and abuse that led her to stop speaking. “It's a voice that's spoken to millions -- including my mother; which is why my sister is named ‘Maya.’"

One award was given posthumously -- to Dr. Tom Little -- an optometrist murdered in 2010 by the Taliban while returning from a humanitarian mission in Afghanistan.

Other honorees included businessman Warren Buffet, concert cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Hall of Fame outfielder/first baseman Stan "The Man" Musial, basketball legend Bill Russell, former President George H.W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis, co-founder of the National Resources Defense Council John H. Adams, American artist Jasper Johns, Holocaust survivor and author Gerda Weissmann Klein, civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez,  American diplomat Jean Kennedy Smith and labor leader John Sweeney.

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