From NBC's Domenico Montanaro and Kelly O'Donnell
The White House awarded 16 Medals of Freedom today to a group that included -- from the world of politics -- Sen. Ted Kennedy and Jack Kemp, as well as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
"I am profoundly grateful to President Obama for this extraordinary honor," Kennedy
said in a statement. "My life has been committed to the ideal of public service which President Kennedy wanted the Medal of Freedom to represent. To receive it from another President who prizes that same ideal of service and inspires so many to serve is a great privilege that moves me deeply."
Others include: Physicist Stephen Hawking, tennis great Billie Jean King, gay rights activist Harvey Milk (whose life was memorialized in a feature film this past year), actor Sidney Poitier, actress Chita Rivera, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nancy Goodman Brinker (founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure), Dr. Pedro Jose Greer (a Miami physician that helps the homeless and disadvantaged children in Miami), Rev. Joseph Lowery (civil rights leader), Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, (last living Plains Indian war chief), Mary Robinson (first female President of Ireland), Janet Davison Rowley (geneticist and cancer researcher), Dr. Muhammad Yunus ("micro-loan" pioneers, providing credit to the poor)