Obama Awards Medal of Freedom to Clinton, Oprah

Sixteen people were awarded the nation's highest civilian honor that was established by President John F. Kennedy fifty years ago.

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Evan Vucci / AP

President Barack Obama awards former President Bill Clinton with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

President Barack Obama presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to former President Bill Clinton and 15 others on Wednesday, the award’s 50th anniversary.

“These are the men and women who in their extraordinary lives remind us of the beauty of the human spirit,” Obama said at the White House.

Clinton received the award for his public service in office, and afterward as the founder of the Clinton Foundation.

“He remembered what his mom had to do on behalf of him and he wanted to make sure he made life better and easier for so many people across the country,” Obama said of Clinton, whose father died before he was born.

Obama presented the award to 15 others, including talk show host Oprah Winfrey, country music legend Loretta Lynn, feminist activist Gloria Steinem, and Hall of Fame college basketball coach Dean Smith.

The president also delivered a brief tribute to the medal’s founder, President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated 50 years ago this week.

“This year it’s just a little more special,” Obama said.