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President George H.W. Bush, 14 Others Receive Medal Of Freedom

President Obama assists former President George H.W. Bush during todays Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House.
Jim Watson
AFP/Getty Images
President Obama assists former President George H.W. Bush during todays Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House.

The 15 latest Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients being honored at the White House this hour are (scroll down for updates from the ceremony):

2011 Medal of Freedom recipients

— President George H. W. Bush.

— German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

— Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).

— John H. Adams, co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

— Poet Maya Angelou.

— Investor Warren Buffett.

— Artist Jasper Johns.

— Holocaust survivor and author Gerda Weissmann Klein.

— The late Dr. Tom Little, an optometrist and aid worker murdered by the Taliban last year in Afghanistan.

— Cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

— Civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez.

— Baseball great Stan Musial.

— Basketball great Bill Russell.

— Jean Kennedy Smith, sister of President John F. Kennedy and founder of VSA, a non-profit organization affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center.

— Former AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney.

The White House says "the Nation's highest civilian honor, the 2010 Medal of Freedom is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."

Click here for some of the president's words of praise

Update at 2:44 p.m. ET: "More than any athlete of his era, Bill Russell came to define word winner," Obama said, but he never defined himself as a "basketball player."

He defines himself as a man who plays basketball, Obama said, and "Bill Russell the man is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men" by marching with Martin Luther King, standing up for Muhammad Ali and refusing to play when a restaurant refused to serve his team because some players were black.

Update at 2:41 p.m. ET: Stan Musial's baseball brilliance "burned for two decades," President Obama said, and he truly earned the nickname "Stan the Man."

Update at 2:40 p.m. ET: Dr. Tom Little was a "humanitarian in the true sense of the word," President Obama said of the optometrist who sacrificed his life for the people of Afghanistan.

Update at 2:37 p.m. ET: Holocaust survivor and author Gerda Klein, President Obama said, has "taught the world that it is often in our most hopeless moments that we discover the extent of our strength and the depth of our love."

Update at 2:35 p.m. ET: Of Jean Kennedy Smith, President Obama said that "when you are among the youngest of nine children you develop a strong sense of empathy. When those children are the Kennedys, you also develop a strong set of diplomatic skills just to be heard." Those traits helped her follow her siblings into public service. Smith was ambassador to Ireland in the Clinton administration.

Update at 2:30 p.m. ET: Of Buffett, President Obama said that "a philanthropist is a lover of humanity and there's no word that fits Warren better."

He also joked that Buffett "is so thrifty I had to give him a White House tie the last time he came here to visit. His was looking a little shredded. So when [Microsoft's] Bill Gates came, he wanted one too."

Update at 2:25 p.m. ET: "When we award this medal to a Congressman John Lewis," President Obama said of the lawmaker and civil rights icon, "it says that we aspire to be a more just, a more equal, a more perfect union."

Update at 2:20 p.m. ET: Speaking of President George H.W. Bush, President Obama said "his humility and his decency reflects the very best of the American spirit."

The nation celebrates Bush's "extraordinary life of service and of sacrifice," Obama also said.

Update at 2:15 p.m. ET: The White House has posted short biographies of the 15 recipients here.

Update at 1:45 p.m. ET: In his opening remarks, President Obama just said that this year's honorees represent "the best of who are and who we aspire to be."

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Mark Memmott
Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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