Sen. Edward Kennedy is one of 16 people selected by President Obama for the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor.
Obama announced the honor Thursday, hailing the winners as agents of change who "saw an imperfect world and set about improving it."
Other winners included physicist Steven Hawking and anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu.
The White House praised Kennedy for his work strengthening public schools, civil rights laws and the health care system.
In a statement, Kennedy said he was deeply moved to receive the medal from a president who also cherishes the ideal of public service.
Kennedy is being treated for a brain tumor. A spokeswoman said no decision has been made whether Kennedy will attend the Aug. 12 awards ceremony.
This program aired on July 30, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.