Bob Dylan receives the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama at the White House today. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/GettyImages)
President Barack Obama honored a diverse group of political and cultural icons, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, astronaut John Glenn and rock legend Bob Dylan, with the Medal of Freedom at the White House today.
The president noted that the awards ceremony Tuesday led to a "packed house, which is testament to how cool this group is." Obama said the honorees have moved Americans with their words and inspired them with their actions.
Obama then spoke of his personal connection to a number of this year's recipients, calling them "my heroes individually."
In his college days, Obama said, he listened to Dylan and recalled "my world opening up, because he captured something about this country that was so vital." Dylan's appearance drew the biggest whoops from the crowd, and he dressed for the event - sunglasses, bow tie and black suit embellished with shiny buckles and buttons.
"Everybody on this stage has marked my life in profound ways," he said.
Other honorees include Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summitt, former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens and author Toni Morrison.
The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor. It's presented to individuals who have made meritorious contributions to the national interests of the United States, to world peace or to other significant endeavors.
Albright was the first woman to hold the top U.S. diplomatic job, while Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth. Pat Summitt led the University of Tennessee women's basketball team to more NCAA Final Four appearances than any other team. And Dylan's vast catalog of songs includes such rock classics as "Like a Rolling Stone," "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Mr. Tambourine Man."
Dylan's self-titled debut was released in 1962, and he has since gone on to become one of the most important voices and lyricists in music over the past 50 years. His last two albums of original material, 2009's Together Through Life and 2006's Modern Times both hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200, a testament to his enduring success through the years.