The Jefferson Awards


Speech by Eunice Kennedy Shriver

The Jefferson Awards, Washington, D.C.

June 17, 1992

I am honored to receive this award on behalf of all mothers and fathers of special children, the special persons themselves-and all who love them. I give this award to them in spirit, for love like theirs is the phantom we all seek.

A few weeks ago we watched on national television the violent burning and looting of Los Angeles by individuals who felt they were being deprived of their human rights. Yet persons with mental retardation have-for thousands of years-been deprived of their human rights. Why have they and their families not resorted to violence? Why is their response so different than what happened in California?

I think the answer is that individuals with mental retardation have taught and inspired all of us, regardless of race, intelligence, color, wealth, sex and age, to work together as friends to give of our hearts, minds, and physical abilities to a great unifying cause-the pursuit of happiness, discovery, caring, excellence and transcendence: those same values so eloquently expressed by Thomas Jefferson.

Therefore, it is right and just that we honor special persons today at the Supreme Court. They are extraordinary human beings, and the world has taken to its heart their shining example of striving against all odds-whether it is the boy with fetal alcohol syndrome who learns to be a team basketball player, or the girl with cerebral palsy who runs a 10 mile race. The light of their lives illuminates the ancient values for which this country must always stand.

I thank God for the friendship of these wonderful human beings and their families and hope you and I will be their friends forever here on earth and beyond.