Nightly News   |  November 20, 2013

Medal of Freedom awarded to 16 luminaries

At the White House a ceremony honored the new Medal of Freedom medalists, which included Bill Clinton, astronaut Sally Ride, Gloria Steinem and Oprah Winfrey. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> finally tonight it was one of those days at the white house . a star-studded gathering as some towering figures in modern american history received the nation's highest civilian honor. created, in fact, by jfk just before his assassination half a century ago. shortly after the ceremony today, one of the recipients joined president obama and the kennedy family at arlington to pay tribute. we get the story tonight from nbc's andrea mitchell .

>> reporter: two presidents laying a wreath at the eternal flame that marks his grave site 50 years after john f. kennedy 's death.

>> reporter: joined by ethel kennedy and other family members of jfk 's brother robert who is buried nearby. robert would have been 88 years old today. at the white house , another part of the kennedy legacy. 16 new recipients of the presidential medal of freedom .

>> this marks the 50th anniversary of president kennedy establishing this award.

>> reporter: america's highest civilian honor but jfk didn't live to present the first medals. two weeks after the assassination, lyndon johnson gave the award to singer marion anderson and painter andrew wyeth among others. the tradition lives on with new medalists including a former president.

>> i'm grateful, bill, for the advice and council you have offered me off and on the golf course .

>> reporter: astronaut sally ride . for the first time presented to a same sex partner.

>> sally didn't just break the stratospheric glass ceiling , she blasted through it.

>> reporter: oprah winfrey whom the president noted got bad advice when she started out.

>> her bosses told her she should change her name to susie. [ laughter ] i have to pause to say, i got the same advice.

>> reporter: feminist icon gloria steinem .

>> the one piece of advice to young girls is -- i love this -- don't listen to my advice. listen to the voice inside you and follow that.

>> reporter: and ben bradley . in fact a a friend frend of jfk 's.

>> i hope we carry from this a reminder of what jfk understood to be the essence of the american spirit .

>> reporter: the 44th american president continuing a tradition begun by the 35th president. even as his flame burns on. andrea mitchell , nbc news, wash war.