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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 17, 1998
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT 
                          AND THE FIRST LADY
                      AT SPECIAL OLYMPICS DINNER

                       The South Lawn Pavilion

THE FIRST LADY: Good evening. Welcome to the White House. It is a great pleasure to join the President in welcoming all of you, as together we mark the 30th anniversary of the Special Olympics. What a joy it is to celebrate the achievements of this remarkable organization with people who care so much about the future of all of our young people.

I want to thank the amazing array of artists who have gathered here this evening, and our mistress of ceremonies, my friend Whoopi Goldberg, for lending your support to the Special Olympics, so that young people everywhere can find and celebrate their own God-given talents. And I want to offer a special tribute to a woman who has brought us all together this evening -- a dear friend, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

You know, if anyone just steps back for a minute and watches Eunice in action, it's exhausting. A lifetime of dedication to public service, she's been a personal inspiration to me and to so many others -- and we've all learned from her. And, certainly, we have learned that you just never say "no" to Eunice. (Laughter and applause.)

Tonight, I want to applaud her life-long commitment to Special Olympics, which has given children around the world the confidence and inspiration to overcome obstacles. But, perhaps more importantly, she has helped us imagine a future in which every child can lead a life of dignity and accomplishment. That vision is one that is shared with my husband, because it is at the very core of his beliefs, as well, that all children -- no matter what their circumstances -- should have an equal chance to grow and learn and contribute to the world around them.

I'm very proud of what our President has been able to achieve, not only in this country, but around the world -- (applause) -- to lift up the lives of families and children, to create the kinds of communities that can support and sustain them, never to give up on any child, and always to bring us together across the gulf that sometimes divides people, always looking for our better selves. Whether the President is working to encourage lasting peace in the Middle East or in Ireland, or working on behalf of America's families to improve our schools or expand quality child care or extend health care to all of our children, his commitment to improving people's lives has been and continues to be his highest priority. (Applause.)

So at this time I am particularly proud to introduce a man who shares the values we are celebrating here tonight -- my husband, my partner and our President, Bill Clinton. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Please be seated. Pretty rowdy crowd tonight. (Laughter.) I am delighted to join Hillary in welcoming all of you here. We're delighted to have you at this remarkable celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Special Olympics.

Let me say just for a moment, I am also thinking tonight about the brave American men and women in uniform who are carrying out our mission in Iraq with our British allies. (Applause.) I know that our thoughts and our prayers, indeed, those of all the American people, are with them tonight. and I wanted to say that what they are doing is important, it will make the world a safer, more peaceful place for our children in the 21st century.

I'd also like to say a word now about the Special Olympics. More than 30 years ago Eunice Kennedy Shriver had an idea as simple as it was revolutionary -- to give young people with disabilities the chance to know the thrill of athletic competition, the joy of participation, the pride of accomplishment. Out of that powerful idea, dreamed up at a kitchen table and launched at a backyard in Rockville, Maryland, Special Olympics grew and grew and grew.

Just think of it -- if you can remember back to the time before the Special Olympics, many people actually believed that people with disabilities were incapable of performing the most basic, every day activities, let alone competing in sports. But this year, 30 years later, there are more than one million Special Olympic athletes -- throwing the javelin, swimming the 500 meter butterfly, walking the balance beam -- something most of the rest of us cannot do -- (laughter) -- and inspiring hope all over the world.

So tonight I ask all of you to stand and join me in toasting Eunice Kennedy Shriver, her wonderful family, who have supported her every step of the way; to all the people who work so hard year in and year out to make Special Olympics possible, and to the athletes who are an inspiration to us all; to Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Special Olympics -- ladies and gentlemen, Eunice Shriver. (Applause.)