Obama is honoring former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and leaders in sports, science and public service in a White House ceremony on Wednesday. Obama says the recipients remind Americans of their own potential.
Obama says the late Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, showed America's daughters, including his own, that they can set their sights high.
The ceremony opens a day of tributes to Kennedy ahead of the 50th anniversary of his assassination Friday. Kennedy established the modern version of the medal but died before the first presentation.