President John F. Kennedy

Address at Kennedy Foundation Awards Dinner (1962).

President John F. Kennedy: Mr. Vice President, ladies and gentlemen, I want to express our thanks to all of you for attending this dinner this evening. Particularly to the Governor for his generosity and being the toastmaster tonight, and for his emphasis on the work which the foundation has done.

We're very appreciative to Ms. Garland, our old friend, and to Mr. Lancaster for coming, and also to all of you.

A year ago we had come to the White House; two young ladies. They were the girls who had been chosen by the National Association for Retarded Children. One was seven, the other was five. They were both blonde, very pretty sisters. One; the older girl was mentally retarded. The younger girl five; suffered from the same difficulties at birth that the older girl had suffered from.

But in the two years intervening, between the birth of her older sister, research had made possible some great new discoveries which brought about a change in diet; which made it possible for the younger girl to live a happy and fruitful life. While the older sister who would have had the same opportunity if the discovery had only been made two years earlier, lives a life in the shadows for the rest of her life.

A more dramatic example to me, and to really any American who could have seen the two girls, I don't think could've made more important the cause which has brought us all together tonight. Really, any childhood sickness is bound to affect any adult. But any childhood sickness which goes on through life without any hope of recovery is bound to be the most deadly of all burdens which any person must carry and which their families must carry.

So that this is a matter which should concern us all as citizens. We've just had a report of the committee headed by Dr. Mayo, and I was shocked to see that in Scandinavia for various reasons dealing with the environment, and dealing with prenatal care, post-natal care, the amount of mentally retarded in the population of children born is 1%. In this rich, prosperous country of ours it's 3%. It shows what can be done, and I think that too long this has been a field which has been left to a few dedicated people.

It has been hidden under social disadvantages. Years ago it was considered a mark against the parents but it was really a disease, or a difficulty, or a challenge to which few people gave their attention. Now we hope that it will come out into the bright light. And will be given the same sort of attention as cancer and heart disease and all the rest which afflict our people. But which afflict in many cases adults particularly elderly people, and their troubles, while serious, are not as devastating as those which mark a child at birth and continue with the child till the end of the trail.

So we're very grateful to all of you for your interest in coming tonight. We are particularly glad to welcome the young students who we hope will be the authors of new discoveries.

We are particularly glad to welcome those who have won these awards. I can't imagine anything more satisfying to the people who work in this field, and to realize that as a result of the effort of one man or woman in their life they have made it possible for a hundred or a thousand or twenty thousand children living in this country or in some other country to live a fruitful and happy life which would not have been led without their one individual tireless patient work. So their work is their own reward.

I have the six award winners; they represent four nations, and I'm delighted with that because I do think it emphasizes the international challenge which faces us all and we would like to have them come forward and to accept these awards.