Image: John Glenn in T-38 jet aircraft
© Reuters Photographer / Reuters  /  REUTERS
John Glenn gives the thumbs up sign from the cockpit of his T-38 jet aircraft as he arrives at the Kennedy Space Center in October 1999.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/29/2012 6:25:37 PM ET 2012-05-29T22:25:37

President Barack Obama honored a diverse cross-section of political and cultural icons — including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, astronaut John Glenn, basketball coach Pat Summitt and rock legend Bob Dylan — with the Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony Tuesday.

“We could not be prouder of all of them,” Obama said as the ceremony concluded. "We could not be more grateful. You have had an impact on all of us and you will continue to have an impact on us."

The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor. It is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the national interests of the United States and world peace.

Other recipients this year include:

—Toni Morrison, author of such novels as "Song of Solomon" and "Beloved." She was the first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1993.

—John Paul Stevens, former Supreme Court Justice.

—Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts. Low founded the organization in 1912; she died in 1927.

—Shimon Peres, president of Israel. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his work during the Middle East peace talks that led to the Oslo Accords. He will receive his medal at a separate event.

—John Doar, who handled civil rights cases as assistant attorney general in the 1960s. He is credited with singlehandedly preventing a riot in Jackson, Miss. following the funeral of civil rights leader Medgar Evars in 1963. He led the effort to implement the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He practices law in New York.

—William Foege, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who helped lead the effort to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. He helped to shape the global health work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

—Gordon Hirabayashi, who fought the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. As an undergraduate at the University of Washington in Seattle, he turned himself into the FBI instead of reporting to an evacuation order, calling it racial discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him in 1943. His conviction was overturned in 1987. Hirabayashi died in January.

—Jan Karski, a resistance fighter against the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II. He carried the first eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust to the world. As a courier to the Warsaw ghetto and the Izbica transit camp, he saw the atrocities first-hand. He became a U.S. citizen in 1954 and died in 2000.

—Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers of America. She co-founded the National Farmworkers Association with Cesar Chavez.

Albright was the first woman to hold the top U.S. diplomatic job, while Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth.

Summitt led the University of Tennessee women's basketball team to more NCAA Final Four appearances than any other team.

And Dylan's vast catalog of songs includes such rock classics as "Like a Rolling Stone," "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Mr. Tambourine Man." He wore sunglasses to the ceremony and patted the president on the arm after the president secured the medal around his neck.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Video: Obama honors Medal of Freedom recipients as heroes

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