In recognition of her work to help people with intellectual disabilities, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics, was posthumously honored as the 38th recipient of Elizabeth Blackwell Award during a special ceremony on Thursday night. Timothy P. Shriver, chair and CEO of Special Olympics, accepted the award on his mother’s behalf and offered a stirring talk to a crowd of HWS community members and local Special Olympics athletes who filled the Vandervort Room of the Scandling Campus Center.
“A woman of enormous conviction and unyielding determination, Eunice Kennedy Shriver worked tirelessly for more than five decades on behalf of those with intellectual disabilities. She fervently believed that given the same opportunities and experiences, all people have the capacity to soar,” said President Mark D. Gearan before Chair of the Board of Trustees David Deming ’75 and Vice Chair Katherine D. Elliott ’66, L.H.D. ’08 presented the award. “By expanding the lives of millions of people and by believing that all people have the right to live with joy and hope, Eunice Kennedy Shriver created a culture of inclusion and dignity that has changed the world.”
Introducing Shriver was Amanda Vito, a Special Olympics Global Messenger and athlete who has won more than 180 medals, most of them gold in the sports of Track and Field. She currently holds the national record for the women’s 100-meter run. “I just returned from the Special Olympics New York State Fall Games where I competed and earned a gold medal in soccer,” said Vito enthusiastically, receiving applause from the audience. “I think Mrs. Shriver would be proud of that!”
In the 1960s, Eunice started a summer camp in her backyard that eventually evolved into the Special Olympics – a global movement that today serves three million people in nearly 200 nations around the world. Timothy Shriver, who has continued his mother’s legacy through his leadership of the Special Olympics, was visibly moved by the tribute paid to his mother’s memory.
“I am enormously humbled and proud to receive this award on behalf of my mother,” he said. “The idea all came from a simple insight. My mom was just furious – she saw something that was wrong and she was furious about it. She loved sports and had a swimming pool and a playing field where her children got to play. How could she stand her own self when children with intellectual disabilities, who were institutionalized and denied summer camps and recreation, were denied the chance to play? It was just a combination of a belief in human dignity, a fury about injustice and a willingness to ask young people to help.”
During the course of his speech, Shriver noted that, despite all of the efforts and changes that his mother and the Special Olympics have achieved, their work is far from over as they strive to change attitudes about people with intellectual disabilities all over the world. “If she were here today, I think she’d be saying, don’t take the treatment that people with intellectual disabilities are getting today as the norm,” he said, citing Eunice’s last official speech, given at her 85th birthday celebration at the White House.
Eunice’s championing of the rights of children with intellectual disabilities began in 1957 when she took over the direction of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation, which helped achieve many significant advances, not the least of which was the establishment by President John F. Kennedy of The President’s Committee on Mental Retardation in 1961, development of the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development in 1962 and the establishment of Special Olympics in 1968.
For her humanitarian efforts, Eunice Kennedy Shriver has received many honors and awards including The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Mary Lasker Award and inclusion in The National Women’s Hall of Fame.
The Blackwell Award is given to women whose lives reflect the ideals and achievements of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell-among them, the determination to break through stereotypes that limit women’s talents and aspirations and the dedication of those talents to the betterment of humanity. Blackwell is the first woman in America to receive the Doctor of Medicine degree. She earned her degree in 1849 from Geneva Medical College, later Hobart College. Shriver joins such notable women as former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, professional tennis legend Billie Jean King, and anthropologist and author Margaret Mead.