The award is the nation's highest civilian honor. It recognizes exemplary contributions to the national interests of the U.S., its culture, world peace, or other significant private or public endeavors.
"Today we celebrate extraordinary Americans who have lifted our spirits, strengthened our Union, pushed us toward progress," President Barack Obama said during the ceremony.
Other notable figures who were honored included Ellen DeGeneres, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford, Bill and Melinda Gates, Lorne Michaels, Maya Lin, Newt Minow and Diana Ross.
Before the ceremony, DeGeneres created a short mannequin challenge video and also tweeted that she wasn't allowed into the White House because she had forgotten her identification card. She was later allowed inside.
Obama provided introductions to each recipient, which included some of the contributions they've made to society.
"Since Jackie Robinson started at second base, Vin taught us the game and introduced us to its players. He narrated the improbable years, the impossible heroics, turned contests into conversations."
"Physically, intellectually, spiritually - Kareem is one-of-a-kind. An American who illuminates our most basic freedoms and our highest aspirations."
"He's inspiring our next generation through his advocacy for arts education in our schools...Frank's work teaches us that while buildings may be sturdy and fixed to the ground, like all great art, they can lift our spirits, they can soar and broaden our horizons."
"Today, every day in every way, Ellen counters what too often divides us with the countless things that bind us together, inspires us to be better - one joke, one dance at a time."
"America's dad has stood up to cancer with his beloved wife Rita, he's championed our veterans, supported space exploration, and the truth is, Tom has always saved his best roles for real life. He is a good man, which is the best title you can have."
"There is a reason you call somebody "the Michael Jordan of"...because Michael Jordan is the Michael Jordan of greatness. He is the definition of somebody so good at what they do that everybody recognizes it. That's pretty rare."