President Barack Obama has given the United States' top civilian honour to musician Bob Dylan, novelist Toni Morrison and 11 other people he described as his personal heroes because of their powerful words, songs and actions.
"What sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they have had on so many people," Obama said, presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom awards at the White House.
"They have enriched our lives and they have changed our lives for the better."
In addition to Dylan and Morrison, Obama awarded the prize to astronaut and former senator John Glenn, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Former Israeli President Shimon Peres and Jan Karski, an officer in the Polish underground who carried his eye-witness account of the Nazi Holocaust to the outside world, also received the award.
Other honourees were John Doar, a key figure in the Justice Department during the 1960s, smallpox eradication pioneer William Foege, civil rights campaigner and community organizer Dolores Huerta, Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low, women's basketball coach and Alzheimer's disease advocate Pat Summitt and Gordon Hirabayashi, who fought Japanese-American internment during World War Two.
"So many of these people are my heroes individually," Obama said during the ceremony, recalling how he read Morrison's novel "Song of Solomon" as a young man when he was "not just trying to figure out how to write, but also how to be and how to think."
"And I remember in college listening to Bob Dylan and my world opening up because he captured something about this country that was so vital. And I think about Dolores Huerta, reading about her when I was starting off as an organizer," he said. "Everybody on this stage has marked my life in profound ways."
Low died in 1927 and Karski died in 2000. Peres did not attend the ceremony and the White House said he would receive his medal at a separate event.
The president has sole discretion in choosing the honourees.
Past recipients include former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, South African anti-Apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, and civil rights activist the Reverend Martin Luther King.
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