WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday presented 16 people - including scientists, activists, actors, an athlete and a preacher - with the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"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," Obama told the audience assembled for the ceremony at the White House.
Watch: Obama says 'thank you'
"At a moment when cynicism and doubt too often prevail, when our obligations to one another are too often forgotten, when the road ahead can seem too long or hard to tread, these extraordinary men and women, these agents of change, remind us that excellence is not beyond our abilities, that hope lies around the corner and that justice can still be won in the forgotten corners of this world," the president said.
"They remind us that we each have it within our powers to fulfill dreams, to advance the dreams of others and to remake the world for our children."
The Presidential Medal of Freedom, an annual award, was created after World War II when President Harry Truman wanted to honor civilian service during the war.