When Maria was growing up as part of the Kennedy clan, she says she didn't feel entitled to make many of her own decisions. "You're playing a role," she says. "You're part of a bigger legacy."
Eunice, Maria's mom and the person she says she admires most in the world, raised her only daughter to work hard, help others and succeed in a competitive world. "She wasn't somebody who cooked or brought me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She drove me," Maria says. "[She told my dad], 'Hit that ball at her as hard as you hit it at the boys. She needs to know what it's like. Tackle her as hard as you tackle the boys so she understands it's a man's world.'"
As a child, Maria says she'd never let her mother catch her sitting on the couch watching television. "She expected you to be out, to be working, to be doing," she says. One summer, Eunice even sent young Maria on a trip to Africa to live and work.
In addition to service, Maria says her parents also emphasized family loyalty and love…something she feels to this day. "I'm not complaining about [my] family because it is and was a blessing to me, but it was something you were a part of," she says. "To kind of become your own person was, and is continuing to be, a challenge. I see that even for my own kids, and I think every kid is entitled to be who they are."