White House Birthday

Remarks of Eunice Kennedy Shriver

The White House

July 10, 2006

President Bush, Mrs. Bush

Members of Congress

Steve and Jean Case

Peter and Carolyn Lynch

Athletes of Special Olympics

Distinguished Guests

I could have no greater honor than to be welcomed to this amazing house to celebrate the ideals I have held so dear, for so long. And I'm sure I will not be able to express how honored I am to be here on my birthday. But I am not telling which birthday it is. In fact, I'm asking the President to have my exact age declared a state secret!

President Bush, you have been so courageous in your commitment to compassionate action, especially in your response to the AIDS crisis in Africa. And in addition to you achievements in politics, you have also managed to control Teddy, at least some of the time. PLEASE, please: tell me how you do it!

And, Mrs. Bush, children who are reading all over this country know you as their special champion. May they enjoy a lifetime filled with libraries, knowledge, and imagination and thank you for it. We are so honored by your gracious welcome here tonight.

Yet no matter how honored I am to be here with all of you, perhaps there is a greater honor still. Many years ago, the prophet Isaiah wrote,

If you do away with the yoke of oppression

If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry

And satisfy the needs of the oppressed

Then your light will shine in darkness

And your night will become like the noonday

I believe that the noonday light of justice is shining in this room, and it is shining in each of you. For in your dedication to over 2.2 million athletes of Special Olympics, you have each sought the light of the prophet.

Together, we have decided that the tragic neglect of the health needs of our athletes must be met. So in the last 5 years, over 340,000 of our athletes have received glasses and dental care and a chance to see a doctor through the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program. And in the light of justice in health care is shining on them.

And most importantly, we have opened our eyes to the skill, the courage, the sharing the joy and love of 2,250,000 athletes in 168 countries around the world. And they have triumphed in the noonday of sports joy--champion athletes! champion citizens! champion human beings!

Mr. President, the honor we celebrate tonight is the honor to be part of a movement that is doing this important work in villages and cities around the world-working in communities one by one to build networks of citizens who organize themselves in service to their fellow human beings; of working one by one to build attitudes of acceptance toward people with intellectual disabilities; of working one by one to build the whole worldview of Special Olympics--the world's greatest platform for the simple idea that we can cooperate across our differences and share in a future of peace. That is why I believe Special Olympics to be the world's most powerful movement for human dignity and equality and love. It is not just about "them" but about all of us as we journey toward being the best we can be.

Tonight as we celebrate, we know beyond us lies a dangerous world. And sadly, throughout my lifetime, it has been so. World Wars, regional wars, ethnic wars, religious wars. O that they would cease! O that we as world citizens could do better by each other than war!

But one thing has changed in my lifetime. When I was young, my sister Rosemary was told "NO." And I remember so well as my mother sought help. Over and over again, she heard "No"--no place here, no program here, no welcome for your daughter here. Tonight, Rosemary is in heaven, and I miss her terribly. And despite the struggles of her life, for 86 years, she was patient and kind, she never put on airs, she never judged and she always forgave; she loved to look pretty, savored chocolate and made everyone happy. She taught us all that adversity meant nothing--that is could always be fun to be together no matter what.

Surely Rosemary and millions of others are looking down on all of us tonight and cheering -YES to your generosity, YES to your courage, YES to your belief in the skill and dignity of every child of God.

We have miles to go to overturn the prejudice and oppression facing the world's 180 million citizens with intellectual disabilities. But what joy for together we have begun.

May you continue to spend your lives in this noble battle. May you overcome ignorance, and may you challenge human indifference at every turn.

And may you find joy in the noonday light of great athletes of Special Olympics!

Thank you and God bless you all.