Hanks, Springsteen among Obama's last Medal of Freedom recipients

Reuters
NBA basketball Hall of Famer Abdul-Jabaar waves before speaking on the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia
NBA basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabaar waves before speaking on the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

(Reuters) - In one of his final acts in office, President Barack Obama selected key figures in sports, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, activism, academia and entertainment among the 21 people who will be awarded the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom - the highest civilian honor in the United States.

Obama will present recipients including rocker Bruce Springsteen, Motown soul singer Diana Ross, former basketball champions Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and actors Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro and Robert Redford with the medal at a White House ceremony on Nov. 22, the White House said on Wednesday.

"The Presidential Medal of Freedom is not just our nation's highest civilian honor - it's a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better," Obama said in a statement.

The medal is given annually to people who have made outstanding contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

This year's roster also includes Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda for their philanthropic foundation, TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, veteran actress Cicely Tyson, architect Frank Gehry and baseball broadcaster Vin Scully.

The group also includes several not so well known Americans, such as late Native American community leader Elouise Cobell and NASA moon landing computer scientist Margaret H. Hamilton.

Obama leaves office in January after eight years, following the election of Republican businessman Donald Trump.

Previous recipients of the medal from Obama include baseball champion Yogi Berra, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, director Steven Spielberg and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Sandra Maler)