President Barack Obama presented his final Presidential Medal of Freedom awards — the nation's highest civilian honor — to 21 actors, musicians, athletes and an array of other renowned Americans during an afternoon ceremony Tuesday at the White House. Among those getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom: actors Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro and Robert Redford; athletes Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, two of the best basketball players ever; musicians Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross; architect Frank Gehry; and philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, among others. WATCH: Obama: 'Today We Celebrate Extraordinary Americans' "Today we celebrate extraordinary Americans who have lifted our spirits, strengthened our union, pushed us toward progress," Obama said. "I always love doing this event, but this is a particularly impressive class." Obama said the people receiving the medal helped push America forward and inspired millions around the world. WATCH: Obama: 'This Is America' "These are folks who have helped make me who I am and think about my presidency," he said. "And what also makes it special is this is America, and it's useful when you think about this incredible selection of people to realize that this is what makes us the greatest nation on Earth." The presidential award recognizes especially meritorious contributions to the national interests of the United States, to its culture, or to other significant endeavors. This story contains material from AP.