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The USA’s annual Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded by a sitting president to those he deems have offered exceptional contributions to society. These meritorious actions can fall into three categories, including cultural endeavors.

In November, President Barack Obama named 19 recipients of this year’s award. “From activists who fought for change,” he said, “to artists who explored the furthest reaches of our imagination.”

Of Journalist Tom Brokaw, The White House press release said, “For decades, Mr. Brokaw has reached millions of Americans in living rooms across the country to provide depth and analysis to historic moments as they unfold, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the terrorist attacks of 9-11.”

Among his many awards for his lifetime achievements, he can now add the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Actor Meryl Streep received the award for her contribution to theatre.

“Ms. Streep has captured our imaginations with her unparalleled ability to portray a wide range of roles, portraying characters who embody the full range of the human experience,” the press release stated. But at the ceremony, Obama said, “I’ve said it publicly, I love Meryl Streep. I love her. Her husband knows I love her. Michelle knows I love her. There’s nothing either of them can do about it. But, she’s done it all for her craft.”

Another actor, Marlo Thomas, also received the award, but for her social activism. “Whether championing equality for girls and women,” said the statement, “giving voice to the less fortunate, breaking barriers by portraying one of television’s first single working women on ‘That Girl’, or teaching children to be ‘Free to Be You and Me’, Thomas inspires us all to dream bigger and reach higher.”

It also commended Thomas’ work as the National Outreach Director with the pediatric facility, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which her father founded in 1962.

Stevie Wonder, whom the statement called one of the world’s most gifted singer-songwriters, also received the award this year for his contribution to the entertainment industry. “Mr. Wonder has created a sound entirely his own,” it said, “mixing rhythm and blues with genres ranging from rock and roll to reggae, and demonstrating his mastery of a range of instruments, styles and themes.” At the ceremony, Obama said, “For more than 50 years, Stevie has channeled his inner visions into messages of hope and healing and becoming one of the most influential musicians in American history.”

The Medal of Freedom award was introduced in 1945 for outstanding civilian wartime service. This was replaced in 1963 by the Presidential Medal of Freedom to include peacetime service as well.

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