Calling them "the best of who we are and who we aspire to be," President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Freedom to 15 recipients Tuesday at the White House. The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor and is presented to people who have made important contributions to U.S. national security, world peace, culture or other significant public or private endeavors. These are this year's recipients:
Bill Russell, former NBA great who led the Boston Celtics to a string of 11 championships in 13 years and an impassioned advocate of human rights.
George H.W. Bush, 86, 41st president of the United States; vice president in the Reagan administration; CIA director; World War II Navy veteran.
Maya Angelou, 82, celebrated author, poet, educator, producer, actor, filmmaker and civil rights activist.
Yo-Yo Ma, 55, a renowned cellist, recognized as a prodigy since the age of 5, whose celebrity transcends the world of classical music. He made his Carnegie Hall debut at age 9.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, American hero and a giant of the civil rights movement.
Jasper Johns, American artist, produced a distinguished body of work dealing with themes of perception and identity since the mid 1950s.
Stan Musial, 90, a baseball legend and Hall of Famer for the St. Louis Cardinals who retired after the 1963 season with a .331 batting average and 475 home runs.
Warren Buffett, American investor, industrialist and philanthropist. He is one of the most successful investors in the world.
Jean Kennedy Smith, founded VSA (in 1974), a non-profit organization affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center that promotes the artistic talents of children, youth and adults with disabilities.
Gerda Weissmann Klein, a Jewish Holocaust survivor who has written several books about her experiences.
John J. Sweeney, president emeritus of the AFL-CIO; served as president of the AFL-CIO from 1995 to 2009.
Dr. Tom Little (posthumous), an optometrist murdered Aug. 6, 2010, by the Taliban in Afghanistan, with nine other members of a team returning from a humanitarian mission to provide vision care in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan.
Angela Merkel, chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. She is the first former East German and first woman to hold the position.
Sylvia Mendez, a civil rights activist of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, who devoted her life to spreading a message of tolerance after her parents successfully sued to desegregate California schools.
John H. Adams, co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970.