(Washington, DC)  --  More than a dozen distinguished Americans are now recipients of Medals of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.  Hosting a White House ceremony, President Obama said the honorees include pioneers, innovators and fierce competitors who became true champions.  Obama said recipient Oprah Winfrey has always pushed the simple, powerful message of  --  "You can."  He noted that Oprah's greatest strength has always been her ability to "help us discover the best in ourselves."  Obama said former President Bill Clinton has long-championed struggling families and stressed that Clinton has spread that focus around the world since leaving the White House.  

The list of recipients include the late Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye, former Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, college basketball coaching legend Dean Smith and Hall of Fame baseball player Ernie Banks.  Other honorees include country singer Loretta Lynn, retired "Washington Post" editor Ben Bradlee, feminist icon Gloria Steinem and the late Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut to travel to space.  President Obama noted that President John F. Kennedy created the Medal of Freedom five decades ago.  Kennedy was assassinated, 50-years ago this week.