The White House has announced the sixteen nominees to receive this year's Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the country that is awarded to activists, scientists, musicians, politicians, and others who have demonstrated immense contributions to American society.
This year's recipients of the medal include television personality and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey and former President Bill Clinton, as well as the Rev. C.T. Vivian, who worked as a close friend and lieutenant to Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's. Following his work in the Civil Rights Movement, Vivian founded numerous civil rights organizations, including Vision, the National Anti-Klan Network, and the Center for Democratic Renewal.
Vivian, who currently lives in Atlanta and serves as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition, said in an interview following the White House announcement that he is "thankful" to have received the honor and hopes to use it to do more good in the U.S.
"I was thankful. I was just thankful, because here's the thing, I know how much good you can do with that," Vivian, 89, told the Daily World of how he felt when he heard that he was receiving the medal. "Programs and ideas that I've wanted to do in order to push things ahead and make things better [could be done]. But it's so difficult, number one, to get attention and difficult to raise money."
Vivian told the Daily World that he wants to specifically form programs that focus on the high school dropout rates of African Americans, as well as create a library that will share the archives of him and his wife, Octavian Vivian.
The White House said in a press release on Thursday that the Medal of Freedom is given to Americans who have made "especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
"The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours," Obama said in a statement released by the White House. "This year's honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation's gratitude."
Also on the list of honorees is Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut to travel to space; activist Gloria Steinem; and jazz trumpeter, pianist, and composer Arturo Sandoval, among others.
The press release goes on to state that the 16 nominees for the Medal of Freedom will receive their award at a special event at the White House, to be held later this year. Since the Presidential Medal of Freedom was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, 500 Americans have received the award.