Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Eunice Kennedy Shriver Remarks


March 3, 2008

Thank you all for this joyful day. May I especially thank all the staff and leadership of NIH and NICHD for all their work in preparing for today's program.

In a special way, I would like to thank the members of Congress who are here, Senator Hatch and Congressman Hoyer.

But there is one member of Congress who is a member of something else too: my family. Teddy, my brother, what wonders you have done around the world for countless people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

I am grateful for my prized and ardent child, Timothy and his wife, Linda. They have carried the messages of Special Olympics to millions. You are heroes to me, and Sarge and I are so proud of everything you have done. I must also thank the rest of my family: my precious husband Sargent and especially my daughter Maria, who has traveled the U.S., South America and Europe doing wonders for our causes. Together with her husband Arnold, they have done so much for the Foundation. My son, Anthony, and his wife Alina, who have journeyed across Africa and throughout the world to fight for those with intellectual disabilities. Anthony, I appreciate your leadership. My sons Bobby and Mark and their wives Malissa and Jeanne, and all of my 17 grandchildren.

My family has been my center.

My family has been my source of strength.

My family is my joy.

My family is what gives me hope in the future.

Most people believe that I have spent my whole life interested in only one thing, and that 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, Special Olympics and Best Buddies, and to ask political leaders for more education, more health care, more housing, and more acceptance. I thank so many of you in this room for joining me in this noble work.

But that is not the whole story of my life.

My life is also about being raised by parents who loved me and made me believe in possibility.

It's been about the friendship and loyalty of my brothers and sisters. It's been about my faith. But in a strange way perhaps, my life is also about the adversity I encountered. I believe I am even lucky that I experienced the sting of rejection as a woman who was told that real power was not for me. I am lucky that I saw my mother and my sister Rosemary treated with the most unbearable rejection. I am lucky that I confronted political and social injustice against people with intellectual disabilities all over the world throughout my career.

I believe that growing up with those experiences also shaped President Kennedy, who has created this Institute. Truthfully, I believe that the way in which he had to learn to deal with Rosemary's childhood isolation helped him to be the compassionate President he was. He was our country's greatest champion of those with special needs. Today we stand in one of his great legacies, NICHD, which together with The University Affiliated programs, and the President's Council remain unmatched advances in American History.

But beyond the specific work he did for people with intellectual disabilities, I believe it was Rosemary's influence that sensitized him and all of us, to the gifts of the vulnerable. And today, I want to say that more than any single individual, Rosemary made the difference. So today, with great gratitude to Jack, to all my family and to generations of scientists who have labored hard on behalf of improving the quality of life for our country's most vulnerable, I want to leave you with 1 request:

I want to ask all of you to believe in the value of every person with an intellectual disability. I want to ask scientists here to work to improve their quality of life. I want to ask the political leaders here to finally give them their due as citizens of this great country. I want to ask the good men and women here to open your families, your religious institutions, your schools, your businesses, your neighborhoods. Open them up. Once and for all, Open them UP!!

And let us be clear: despite all the progress of recent years, our special friends are still under threat. Some would rather eliminate them than improve the quality of life. Others would rather cut costs than create real opportunity. Still others would just rather move on. For our part, let us make our stand on human dignity. Let us make our stand on justice. I ask you: STAND UP FOR PEOPLE WITH INTELLECTUAL DISABILITIES FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIVES!!

You may ask what good will come from this for yourselves or for your country? This is it: there is no joy like the joy of unleashing the human spirit. There is no laughter like the laughter of those who are happy with others. There is no purpose nobler than to build communities of acceptance for all. This is our glory. This is the greatness of the United States of America. Please do not let it be trampled.

So thank you for this great honor. And thank you for reinforcing for me the power of faith, hope, and love. I have always believed these to be the most important gifts of all.

Thank you.