Comedian Ellen DeGeneres, actor Tom Hanks and champion basketballer Michael Jordan were among the 21 names awarded the nation's highest civilian honour by President Barack Obama.
Obama presented the awards to what he called a particularly impressive class of groundbreaking actors, musicians, athletes and innovators.
However, it was President Obama's tribute to Ms DeGeneres, the US talk show host and LGBT rights advocate, that got people talking.
"It’s easy to forget now just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages 20 years ago," Mr Obama said.
He said her bravery helped "push our country in the direction of justice".
The Presidential Medal of Freedom recognises especially meritorious contributions to the national interests of the United States, its security and its culture.
WATCH ABOVE: US President Barack Obama honours Ellen DeGeneres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom