One of the advantages of being the president of the United States is picking the guests of honor at the White House.
In this case for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor.
In an election year, is it possible that anyone thinks of covering a lot of bases?
President Barack Obama this spring will bestow the honor on Bob Dylan, the songwriter of the Sixties and beyond who turned 70 last year. The Minnesotan born as Robert Zimmerman is among 13 winners of the medal announced today by the White House.
Toni Morrison, the 81-year-old writer and Nobel Prize winner born as Chloe Anthony Wofford in Ohio, will be invited for a spring ceremony at the White House as well.
So will Shimon Peres, president and former prime minister of Israel and another Nobel Prize winner — like Obama himself in that regard.
Also John Glenn, the former senator from Ohio and first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. And John Paul Stevens, retired associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, third-longest serving at his retirement in 2010.
And Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the National Farmworkers Association with Cesar Chavez in 1962 (President Bill Clinton presented the medal posthumously to Chavez in 1994). John Doar, a former assistant attorney general in charge of the civil rights division in the 1960s and now attorney in New York, will receive a medal as well.
As will Madeleine Albright, secretary of state for Clinton from 1997 to 2001, the first woman in that post.
And Pat Summitt, one of the most successful basketball coaches in NCAA history.
William Foege, an epidemiologist credited for helping lead the campaign to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be honored.
Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the Girl Scouts in 1912, will be honored in memory. She passed away in 1927. Also honored in memory will be Jan Karski, an officer in the Polish underground during World War II who bore witness to the Holocaust, became a Georgetown School of Foreign Service professor and a U.S. citizen and died in 2000.
Another to be honored posthumously: Gordon Hirabayashi, who defied the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. He was convicted for that, and lost an appeal at the Supreme Court. He obtained a PhD in sociology, his conviction was overturned in 1987 and he died in January.
If this round of winners offers an eclectic definition of freedom, the roll of past winners is just as diverse.