Barack Obama: Presents medal of freedom to 16 recipients

Thursday 13, August 2009

US President Barack Obama has awarded the nation's highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to 16 "agents of change" on Wednesday.

Among the 16 recipients at the White House were the world renowned physicist and author Stephen Hawking and Mary Robinson, South African human rights champion Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ireland's first female President and a former U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

Tennis player Billie Jean King was also honoured.

A posthumous medal was also awared to gay rights activist and San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in 1978.

Others being honoured included veteran US Senator Edward Kennedy, who has been battling brain cancer and was not present, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered "microloans" to provide credit to poor people who lack collateral.

Reflecting on those receiving the honour, President Barack Obama said, "These extraordinary men and women, these agents of change, remind us that excellence is not beyond our abilities, that hope lies around the corner, and that justice can still be won in the forgotten corners of this world".

The Presidential Medal of Freedom was established by President Harry Truman in 1945 to recognise civilians for their efforts during World War II. In 1963, President John F Kennedy reinstated the medal to honour individuals for distinguished service from all walks of life.  
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