The Minerva Awards

Mrs. Eunice Kennedy Shriver Remarks at

The Minerva Awards

California Women's Conference

October 23, 2007

Thank you for this joyful award. And what a thrill that it comes from women.

Most people believe that I have spent my whole life really interested in only one thing. And that one thing is working to make the world a better place for people with intellectual disabilities. That has been a huge part of my life.

It inspired me to work on research when I was young, to create sports camps, to begin the Special Olympics, to join with my children in many causes, to ask political leaders for more education, health care, housing, and acceptance. This is my work and it still inspires me today. So I thank you all for recognizing it and I ask you each to be a part of it. You will be fighting injustice while also unlocking the best in yourself. Please help.

But as important as the work has been, it is not the whole story of my life.

My life is also about being lucky as a child to be raised by parents who loved me and made me believe in possibility.

It is also about being lucky to have had extraordinary loving and loyal brothers and sisters who have been my friends for life.

It's also about being especially lucky to have an extraordinary husband, extraordinary children, to see them marry extraordinary wives and husbands, and to play games with 16 extraordinary grandchildren. All of them are my life too.

But a strange way perhaps, my life also includes being lucky in the adversity I encountered. I'm lucky I experienced the sting of rejection as a woman who was told that the real power was not for me. I am lucky that I saw my mother and sister Rosemary treated with the most unbearable rejection.

You might say, "Why are you lucky to have had such difficult experiences?" The answer is simple: injustice gave me the confidence to make my own decision and not to listen to men!!

It is really that simple: lovedproduced confidence and adversity produced purpose. I am grateful that I have had these two gifts given to me.

So today, I really want to share these gifts with you and return this award to every woman in this room in the form of 3 wishes:

I wish each of you the love of family and if that isn't possible, the love of people who will treat you like family. There is no substitute for family. Everything else doesn't matter. If you haven't got people you call family, find them.

And I wish each of you the gift of being able to channel whatever injustice or anger or frustration you are experiencing in your life into a purpose. You can do it. The only person you need to convince is yourself.

And I finally want to offer you the most precious gift I can give you in return for this award: that gift is the gift of my daughter, Maria. Maria is a star and you all know that. But she is not just the star of fame or fortune or glamour (though she is all of those). She is also a star of love of family and a star of the search for purpose. She is to the world that I have always hoped to be; she is full of love. She is full of energy in her quest to give women the power they deserve, and the power to change the world.

So, I say, follow Maria.

So thank you for this award. Thank you for reinforcing for me the faith, the hope, the love that I have always believed to be the most important gifts of all. I hope that many of you will join in my special mission to make the world safe for people with intellectual disabilities and to make the world safe for human dignity itself. But mostly I offer you simple wishes: find your family, find your mission, follow Maria. You will never be disappointed.

Thank you.