President Barack Obama awards the the Presidential Medal of Freedom to author Toni Morrison during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House in Washington on May 29, 2012. The Medal of Freedom is our 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. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo
WASHINGTON, May 29 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday said Bob Dylan and Madeline Albright were among the 13 "extraordinary" Americans awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"Together, the honorees on this stage ... have changed our lives for the better. … It's our job to help let them know how extraordinary their impact has been on our lives," Obama said during the ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
"When Saddam Hussein called her a snake, she wore a snake pin on her lapel" during her next meeting in Baghdad, Obama said of Albright, a former secretary of state.
Obama said lawyer John Doar "laid the groundwork" for the civil rights movement, adding, "I might not be here, if it weren't for his work."
The president said his "whole world opened up" when he heard Dylan's music as a college student, and he lauded former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens as "modest, insightful, well-prepared," noting the third longest-serving justice in history "would happily comply when tourists asked him to take photos of them in front of the court," not knowing who he was.
Other recipients of the nation's highest civilian award were physician and epidemiologist William Foege; former Marine Corps pilot, astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn; Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison; former Israeli President Shimon Peres; former University of Tennessee women's basketball Coach Pat Summitt; Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low; World War II Polish Underground officer Jan Karski; civil rights advocate Dolores Huerta; and Gordon Hirabayashi, who resisted the forced relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during the second world war.