WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama gave the United States' top civilian honor on Tuesday to musician Bob Dylan, novelist Toni Morrison and 11 other people he said have had an "incredible impact" on society through their words and actions.
"What sets these men and women apart is the incredible impact they have had on so many people," Obama said, presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom awards at the White House. "They have enriched our lives and they have changed our lives for the better."
In addition to Dylan and Morrison, Obama awarded the prize to astronaut and former senator John Glenn, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Israeli President Shimon Peres and Jan Karski, an officer in the Polish underground who carried his eye-witness account of the Nazi Holocaust to the outside world.
Other honorees were John Doar, a key figure in the Justice Department during the 1960s, smallpox eradication pioneer William Foege, civil rights campaigner Dolores Huerta, Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low, women's basketball coach and Alzheimer's advocate Pat Summitt and Gordon Hirabayashi, who fought Japanese-American internment during World War Two.
Low died in 1927 and Karski died in 2000. Peres did not attend the ceremony and the White House said he would receive his medal at a separate event.
The president has sole discretion in choosing the honorees. Past recipients include former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, South African anti-Apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, and civil rights activist Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Reporting by Samson Reiny; Writing by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Eric Walsh)