President Obama is honoring predecessor George H.W. Bush and 14 other people with the Medal of Freedom.
The recipients are "some of the most extraordinary people from America and around the world," Obama said, the latter phrase referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel (who is not in attendance).
The honorees are "the best of who we are and who we aspire to be," he said.
The roll call:
John Adams, co-founder of the National Resources Defense Council. "If the planet has a lawyer, it's John Adams," Obama said.
Maya Angelou, the honored poet who has inspired millions, Obama said, "including my mother, which is why my sister is named Maya."
Warren Buffett, investment guru and philanthropist -- and also thrifty, Obama reported, to the point where the president had to give him a White House tie. "His was looking a little shredded," he said.
Jasper Johns, best known for his depictions of U.S. flags and other common items.
Jean Kennedy Smith, former ambassador to Ireland and member of one of the nation's most prominent families.
Gerda Weissmann Klein, a Holocaust survivor who has written movingly of his experiences.
John Lewis, a civil rights lawyer beaten after walking the bridge at Selma and later a congressman from Georgia. "His life is a lesson in the fierce urgency of now," Obama said.
The late Tom Little, an optometrist who gave his life trying to bring sight to people in Afghanistan.
Yo-Yo Ma, world-renowned cellist.
Sylvia Mendez, a civil rights pioneer for Hispanics and Mexican Americans.
Angela Merkel, who dreamed of freedom while growing up in communist East Germany and leads a unified Germany.
Stan Musial, a baseball immortal forever known as "Stan The Man." Obama notes, "My grandfather was named Stan by the way -- I used to call him Stan The Man."
Bill Russell, who won nine pro-basketball titles as center of the Boston Celtics -- and two more as player-coach, the first black major league coach in any sport. He also contributed to the civil rights movement.
John Sweeney, the son of a maid who rose to become the leader of the nation's largest labor union, the AFL-CIO.
George Herbert Walker Bush, who served the nation for nearly seven decades -- as fighter pilot, member of Congress, U.N. ambassador, CIA director, China envoy, vice president and 41st president of the United States. He also jumps out of airplanes "because it feels good." Obama says, "Those of you who know him -- this is a gentleman."