Revolutionizing Dignity
The Big Picture

Cienkus Headshot_SketchInclusion is the opposite of individualism, fragmentation, loneliness — negative words that resonate too strongly with countless individuals. However, on the night of Saturday, July 25th, a refreshing breeze blew in to drive out the stale, complacent air: the Special Olympics. The games show inclusion and inspiration. Or, what Lawrence Downes of The New York Times calls “bravery.”

The Special Olympics have something to teach every one of us, whether it be that it is acceptable to try and fail, that every life has dignity or that it is totally cool to run in an Olympic games barefoot. Every game and event I watched filled me with the grace that only those special athletes can bestow, and I hope that every one of us is watched and supported in the same way. There are no other athletes who have had to overcome such barriers in order to get to Los Angeles this year. They know better than anyone what it means to achieve in a world where they are often considered the lowest and need the most support yet continually fail to receive it.

Georgetown actually has a strong connection to the Special Olympics. Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the first Special Olympics in 1968 at Chicago’s Soldier Field (go Bears!). Maria Shriver (COL ’77), her daughter, went to Georgetown, as well as Maria’s daughter Christina (COL ’13). Maria’s brother Anthony Shriver (COL ’88) founded Best Buddies International, an organization that pairs individuals with special needs with career and social mentors. Georgetown has its own Best Buddies club to this day. Needless to say, our community should feel a strong connection to this event.

Tim Shriver, Maria and Anthony’s brother as well as the chairman of the Special Olympics, made an incredible opening speech. The points he brought up put into perspective the concepts of competition, success and humanity. Georgetown students, most of whom are so gifted and talented in countless ways, can take much away from his message.

“Just beat your best,” Shriver said. “1/200th of a second is less than the blink of an eye, but improve that much every day and the impossible comes true. Striving is what lifts the human spirit.” What that mentality could do to cure our social ills astounds me. I believe the Special Olympics remind us to marvel at all successes large and small and to push to be our best, not anyone else’s.

Finally and most importantly, Shriver touched on what he called the dignity revolution: “a world where there are a million different abilities but no disabilities,” a world of community and inclusion. We need this message now more than ever, not only extending to those with special needs, but also to the marginalized and disenfranchised of the world.

My brother Jack, who himself is on the autism spectrum, looks up at me multiple times a days after he struggles with something and declares, “You can always try again.” Thank you to all the amazing athletes in the Special Olympics and individuals like my brother for those grounding, necessary reminders.

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