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Bill and Melinda Gates
Bill and Melinda Gates meet with women in Jamsaut village in Bihar, India. (Via Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

Bill and Melinda Gates have been selected to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the nation’s highest civilian honor — by President Barack Obama, The White House announced on Wednesday.

The Gateses are among 21 recipients named by the president in honoring “individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”

In a White House news release, Obama said the Medal is, “a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better,” adding that the 21 people being honored “have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way.”

The list includes such honorees as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert De Niro, Ellen DeGeneres, Frank Gehry, Tom Hanks, Michael Jordan, Robert Redford, Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross.

Here’s what the White House said about the work of the Microsoft co-founder and his wife and the 16-year-old Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:

Bill and Melinda Gates established the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, the foundation focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, the mission is to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. The Gates Foundation has provided more than $36 billion in grants since its inception.

The Gates Foundation tweeted a statement from the Gateses in which they said they were “deeply humbled” to receive the award and that they accept it in honor of dedicated staff and innovative partners around the globe.

The awards will be presented at the White House on Nov. 22 and the ceremony will be streamed live here. See the full list and read about all of the honorees here.

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