British scientist Stephen Hawking and Bangaldeshi Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus were two such personalities. While Hawkings was awarded popular science publications and for making his research accessible to all members of the public, Yunus was recognised for his role in poverty alleviation through micro-finance scheme in Bangladesh.
While presenting the awards, Obama said, "This is a chance for me - and for the United States of America - to say thank you to some of the finest citizens of this country, and of all countries."
Others who were honoured with this award were:
- Desmond Tutu, an anti-apartheid activist
- Nancy Goodman Brinker, a breast cancer campaigner
- Pedro Jose Greer, a medical campaigner
- Billie Jean King, the tennis legend
- Rev. Joseph Lowery , Civil Rights activist
- Joseph Medicine Crow, Native American Tribal Chief
- Sandra Day O'Connor, former Supreme Court Justice
- Chita Rivera, an actress
- Janet Davison Rowley for her research on Cancer
Posthumous medals were conferred on former Republican congressman Jack Kemp and gay rights campaigner Harvey Milk.