Obama presents final Medal of Freedom honors

November 22, 2016 11:37 PM EST

U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to actor Robert DeNiro in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., November 22, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama awarded the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom - the highest civilian honor in the United States - to 21 key figures at a star-studded ceremony at the White House on Tuesday.

Obama presented the prestigious medal to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda for philanthropic work, former basketball players Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and actors Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro and Robert Redford.

"It's useful when you think about this incredible collection of people to realize that this is what makes us the greatest nation on earth," Obama said.

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

Other recipients this year were rock star Bruce Springsteen, soul singer Diana Ross, Native American community leader Elouise Cobell and NASA moon landing computer scientist Margaret H. Hamilton.

TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who was also awarded the medal, conducted a "mannequin challenge", a video that features people frozen in place, with the recipients.

Obama leaves office in January after eight years, with Republican businessman Donald Trump taking charge.

(Reporting Reuters TV. Editing by Patrick Johnston)

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