WASHINGTON (CNN) - The White House announced Thursday the 16 recipients of this year's Presidential Medal of Freedom, who include researchers, activists and athletes.
Recipients "make an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," the White House said in a written statement.
"Their relentless devotion to breaking down barriers and lifting up their fellow citizens sets a standard to which we all should strive," said President Barack Obama in the statement.
(Full list of recipients after the jump):
Nancy Goodman Brinker is the founder of Susan G, Komen for the Cure, a grassroots organization that invests in research to fight breast cancer.
Pedro Jose Greer Jr. is the founder of Camillus Health Concern, an agency that provides medical care to more than 10,000 homeless patients a year in Miami, Florida.
Stephen Hawking is a theoretical physicist and author who has worked through a severe physical disability to pioneer academic research in math and physics.
Jack Kemp, who receives the award posthumously, served as a congressman and as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He also encouraged development in urban communities.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, has served as a senator for 46 years and has pushed for quality and affordable health care for children, seniors and people with disabilities.
Billie Jean King, a professional tennis player of the 1960s and 1970s, was the first openly lesbian major sports figure in the United States.
Rev. Joseph Lowery has been a leader of the struggle for civil rights since the 1950s. His work included helping to organize the Montgomery bus boycott that followed Rosa Park's refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger in 1955.
Joe Medicine Crow – High Bird is the last living Plains Indian war chief and author on Native American history and culture.
Harvey Milk, who receives the award posthumously, became the first openly gay elected official of a major U.S. city when he joined the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He pushed the civil rights movement for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Sandra Day O'Connor was the first female U.S. Supreme Court justice.
Sidney Poitier was the first African American to be nominated for and win an Academy Award for best actor.
Chita Rivera was the first Latina recipient of the performing arts award from the Kennedy Center. She made her breakthrough performance in 1957 as Anita in the Broadway premiere of West Side Story and has won two Tony Awards.
Mary Robinson was the first female president of Ireland. She is also the founder of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, an organization that focuses on the link between human rights and globalization.
Janet Davison Rowley is a human geneticist and the first scientist to identify a chromosomal translocation as the cause of leukemia and other cancers. She received the National Medal of Science in 1999, the United States' highest scientific award.
Desmond Tutu is a retired Anglican archbishop who played a lead role in South Africa's anti-apartheid movement. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
Muhammad Yunus pioneered micro-loans in his effort to reverse poverty trends. The Bangladeshi economist provided small, low-interest loans to low-income people in Bangladesh. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
The award ceremony is set for August 12.