"What a great moment for me, my son, the world. What you have made possible for so many people defies all reason." LOWELL WEICKER, JR.
Former United States Senator
Acceptance Speech by
Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Of the Aristotelis Prize
Presented by the Onassis Foundation
May 24, 1993
Prime Minister Mitsotakis,
Ministers of the Government and
Members of the Parliament,
The President of the Onassis Foundation and
Members of the Foundation Board,
Recipients of the International Onassis Prizes,
My Good Friend, John Brademas,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to receive the Aristotelis Prize from a Foundation established by a father in honour of his son...a father who wanted the meaning of his son's life to live on in the good things which nourish the humanity of us all-as did my father, who, 45 years ago, established a Foundation to honour his son.
Thirty years ago, at the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy travelled to the divided city of Berlin.
He told a huge audience in that embattled city that all persons who loved freedom were citizens of Berlin. In the world of freedom the proudest boast was "Ich bin ein Berliner!"
In today's world, all people who love democracy can say with similar pride and truth, "I am an Athenian!"
For here is the birthplace of the democratic philosophy by which all free people live. The philosophers and statesmen of Greece who created those democratic principles would understand that democracy itself is constantly evolving, growing and expanding.
Women did not enjoy full citizenship in ancient Athens, nor did black slaves in the United States prior to the Civil War. Intellectual and moral progress has brought women, and members of many races and religions, to citizenship in contemporary democracies.
But so much remains to be done.
Now there is another chapter that Greece and all nations must understand and write. This new chapter concerns people with mental retardation-250 million of them on every continent and in every corner of the globe. These people are jewels, they are jewels in our culture. Our culture is empty and cold and barren when we blind ourselves and drop our eyes to the pavement before a handicapped person.
When I see parents at a Special Olympics International Games-parents who have travelled all the way from Africa, China, remote islands in the Pacific, or from nations where people are dying every day and horrendous, inhuman acts are often committed-and I see them come that distance to watch their child mount the victor's platform, listen to the music of the victory, see flags behind them and, I might add, signs of the greatest commercial companies in the world backing them, when I hear the applause and see the tears in those parents' eyes, and the line of people standing there applauding while young children carry medals for presentation-with corporate executives pinning the medals on the athletes-and the parents wearing a shirt saying, "My son Mark, is a Special Olympian"-I see humanity at its best.
I watch young college students take a child with fetal alcohol syndrome from the inner city who doesn't speak very well but can delight in a friendship based on the habits of the heart-and I see humanity at its best.
Imagine, for a moment, yourself at a Special Olympics event. Imagine watching a 50 meter dash where six athletes-from India, Russia, Jordan, Israel, Greece and America-charge down the track with all the energy and passion which God gave them-in six and a half seconds! Imagine attending a powerlifting event where boys lift weights of 400 pounds or more. Or imagine watching gymnastics in a community club where a 16 year old Special Olympian comes in sixth during an open competition.
Now imagine your own feelings at seeing these competitions, with athletes who face-and overcome-challenges so large and imposing. Sometimes the spectator feels tears, other times anger or excitement-but never does a spectator go unmoved.
Here, today, you have generously recognized me. But, in reality, you are recognizing the miracle of Special Olympics. For Special Olympics carry a message the world hungers for:
A message of hope-where before there was hopelessness;
A message of openness-where before were closed doors;
A message of trying-where before there was giving up;
A message of acceptance-where before there was rejection and isolation.
I believe that this new moral revolution-like the revolution of democracy itself-awaits all of us. I believe this revolution will be every bit as powerful as any economic, political or social movement the world has yet seen.
I believe each of you can extend these Athenian principles of democracy and this moral revolution.Let me specifically suggest three ways in which you can help:
First, encourage your sons and daughters to become coaches and volunteers, working with our Special Olympics friends in school and sports clubs.
Secondly, bring people with mental retardation to work in your businesses.
In the United States, research shows that workers with mental retardation:
Have a lower absenteeism rate than other workers,
Have a turnover rate half that of other workers,
Can do thousands of different jobs-from busboy to data entry.
Last, become a volunteer yourself. Join your own President and leaders in government, business, education, sports, and health who have committed themselves to working with the mentally handicapped.
Because of their leadership, 4,000 people now have the opportunity-through Special Olympics Hellas-to train and compete in 15 different sports each week.
But with hundreds of new volunteers-doctors, lawyers, accountants, advertising executives, journalists, sport coaches, teachers-supporting this program, then thousands more Greek citizens will enjoy the same opportunities.
Some years ago, my brother placed great store on welcoming excellence to the White House. They were artists, painters, philosophers, Nobel Prize winners and scientists who were honoured there. In addition, he invited the physically handicapped and people with mental retardation to join him at the White House.
And he said, as he met and spoke with them that "We as a Nation...will be judged by our caring for our least powerful citizens."And so, when our hearts are touched, and when they are open to the eternal moral principles of love and understanding and friendship, then there is a world on fire.
As the philosopher wrote:
"After conquering the winds and waves, the tides and gravity, we will harness for God the energies of love and then for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover fire."