Laetare Acceptance Speech

Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Laetare Acceptance Speech-University of Notre Dame

May 15, 1988'

When I was a little girl I always wanted to go to Notre Dame but I couldn't because it was an all male school. Today Notre Dame is trying to make it up to me by giving me this medal, and I accept (it) on behalf of all the women over 30 who never had a chance to go to Notre Dame either.

Seriously, I would have gone to Notre Dame-if I'd been accepted-because of the special place this university occupies in our family. My father loved Notre Dame and he served as a trustee for many years. My brother Jack felt very moved when Father Hessburg brought the Laetare Medal to him in the White House. I can remember a similar thrill when Sargent received his medal for his work in starting the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty-Sargent has been the light of my life for 35 years.

Today I, too, am deeply honored to receive this medal. I accept it on behalf of all mothers and fathers who have special children-on behalf of coaches, teachers and volunteers. I give this medal to them in spirit, for love like theirs is the phantom we all seek.

Last summer in your great football stadium a new legend was born. Our Special Olympics athletes were the heroes of that legend. Here where crowds once cheered for George Gipp, for Joe Theisman and Rocky Blier, last August they cheered for Special Olympians.

They were the stars and the world was watching them. By their presence they sent a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory. They taught us that what matters is not power or politics, weapons or wealth. What truly counts is the courageous spirit, the generous heart.

Like the heart of the 26-year-old athlete from Paraguay who is mentally retarded and paralyzed on one side of his body. He ran the 100 meters, the 800 meters and the 1500 meters and won medals in all three.

Like the heart of a 17-year-old weightlifter from Indiana, who is deaf as well as mentally retarded. He deadlifted 425 pounds, almost three times his own weight.

These special athletes moved the world, and so can you men and women of Notre Dame. Will you open to us the playing fields of your communities? Take us into your swimming pools, your softball leagues, your volleyball tournaments, your bowling alleys. Play with us, practice with us, coach us, adopt our Special Olympic teams. Compete with us. We want to be part of your sports world.

Our Special Olympians want you to be part of theirs, for it is in our caring or failing to care that we inch mankind forward or let it fall back. The love we give to our parents, our children, the aged, the sick, the powerless, becomes a part of us and multiplies as we pass it on. And slowly, day by day, through this mysterious arithmetic, the hardness and pain of life are diminished and the thin, precious spiral of hope ascends.