Today is July 10, and it would have been Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s 91st birthday. Six years ago today I was invited to a White House dinner on behalf of Ms. Shriver and Special Olympics (you can see Ned’s pictures here). This lovely event was hosted by former President George W. Bush. I really appreciated the celebration he and his wife Laura put together for my favorite organization. Special Olympics was Nat’s portal to the rest of the world. It took him a few years to become truly open to the experience of team sports, hard physical practice, and loud crowded ceremony. Once he took that leap, he learned the most important thing in his life: human companionship is worth far more than gold. (But getting a gold medal is a great start!)
Remarks of Eunice Kennedy Shriver
The White House
July 10, 2006
President Bush, Mrs. Bush
Members of Congress
Stephen and Jean Case
Peter and Carolyn Lynch
Athletes of Special Olympics
President Bush: thank you for your wonderful remarks. 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.
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 your achievements in politics, you have also managed to control Teddy, at least some of the time. PLEASE, please: tell me how you do it!
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
Tonight, I thank each of you for I believe that the noonday light of justice is shining around the world because of your enormous generosity. For in your dedication to our campaign and to over 2.2 million athletes of Special Olympics, you have each sought the light of the prophet.
When the athletes asked us for better health, together we answered YES, and over 340,000 athletes saw a doctor at Special Olympics! When non disabled young people asked us for the chance to learn more about our athletes, together we answered YES, and over 1 million young people welcomed Special Olympics into their schools. When families asked us for more hope, together we answered YES, and over 30,000 family leaders created networks of caring.
And most importantly, when athletes asked for a chance to play, together we answered YES to the skill, the courage, the sharing, the joy of 2,250,000 athletes in 168 countries around the world. And they have triumphed in the noonday joy of sports -— Champion athletes! Champion citizens! Champion human beings!
Mr. President, the honor we celebrate here is the honor of being part of a movement that is working one village by one village; one person by one person, one attitude by one attitude to change the world. Special Olympics athlete leaders and Best Buddies leaders and all the family leaders remind us that it is not just about “them” but about each 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 could do better 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. But despite the struggles of her life, for 86 years, she was patient and kind; she never put on airs; she never judged, she always forgave; she loved to look pretty, she savored chocolate and she made everyone happy. She taught us all that adversity meant almost nothing—that it could always be fun to be together no matter what. And I know she is joining me from heaven in thanking all of you tonight.
When we wake tomorrow, let us not forget that 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 each continue to spend your lives in this noble battle.
May you overcome ignorance.
May you challenge indifference at every turn.
And may you find great joy in the noonday light of the great athletes of Special Olympics!