Commencement Address By Vice President Joe Biden
The University of Delaware
9:16 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hello, Delaware! (Applause.) It’s good to be home. It’s good to be home. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It really is good to be home.
Dr. Grasso, thank you for that kind introduction -- and, Mr. President, Chairman of the Board and members of the board, distinguished faculty, alumni, elected officials that are here.
Moms, dads, grandparents, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives -- you all look happier today than the graduates do. (Laughter.) And I want you to know there’s a good reason for that, graduates. All your parents get a pay raise today. (Laughter.) No tuition. (Laughter and applause.) Congratulations.
Class of 2014, we keep saying we stand to recognize you. But I think it’s about time you all get out of your chairs and thank your parents. (Applause.)
And I want to say congratulations to all the veterans who are graduating today and all those who are going to be commissioned in the United States military. (Applause.) Will you join -- would all of you, please stand? All those veterans and all those joining, please stand. (Applause.) You’re about the join the finest group of warriors the world has ever seen. And that is not hyperbole. That's a fact.
So, ladies and gentlemen, as I said, it’s a delight to be here to congratulate the Class of 2014. I’m so proud of you. We’re all so proud of you. And as I said, it’s great to be home, back at my alma mater. My sister received her degree from here. My wife, Jill, received her undergraduate and doctorate degree from here. And an awful lot of Bidens and an awful lot of my wife’s family also went to the university.
But the reason I’m so excited to be here, particularly standing exactly where I am, Coach Raymond, where are you? Coach, stand up. Will you please? (Applause.) Now, Coach Raymond -- I came to Delaware to play football. I didn't do much of it. (Laughter.) But I came to play.
Coach, I want you to observe -- he was my backfield coach. I want you to know I finally made it into the end zone. (Laughter and applause.) That's the reason I’m most happy to be here. (Laughter.)
Coach once said to me in spring practice. I was a defensive halfback, and we had these drills. And those of you who played or watched defensive halfbacks, we run backwards as much as we run forwards. And we had these drills racing back and forth. And it was all over. And Tubby in his totally understated way gave a little -- got us all the backs together, and went, well, Biden, you run faster backwards than anybody I’ve ever seen. (Laughter.) A lot of my political opposition thinks that as well. (Laughter.)
Look, over the last four years, the Blue Hen athletic department has built on a great tradition, breaking records, playing for championships, and bringing pride to this great university. From football to men’s and women’s basketball, you’ve done an incredible job. You represent our alma mater well, my alma mater well.
And now, I have been around long enough to know that -- and gained enough wisdom that I’m not going to offer you any advice. I just want to make one basic point to you today. No graduating class gets to choose the world into which they graduate.
Every class enters the history of the nation up to that point has been written by others. But very few classes, once every couple generations, a class enters a point in our history where they actually have a chance to change the trajectory of the country -- an inflection point where change is taking place regardless of what you do. But because it’s in motion, you have a chance to get your hands around it, a chance to alter the trajectory, a chance -- just a chance -- to bend history a little bit.
That’s the moment into which you are graduating, and that’s the moment into which I graduated in the ‘60s. Like many of you here today, some of the most transformative events of my life took place on this campus. Between the time I entered the University of Delaware and graduated, the world had changed significantly: The nuclear arms race was in full swing with the Soviet Union; the Civil Rights Movement that got me engaged in public life to being with had turned even more violent; the war in Vietnam was beginning -- by the time I graduated and got to law school, it had divided America like nothing since the Civil War; and even more damaging, it created a generational gulf that has not been seen before or since.
On November 22, 1963, on a brilliant sunny day, I stood on the steps of Hullihen Hall and learned that John F. Kennedy had just been assassinated. In the spring in which I graduated from law school, the only two heroes I ever had in public life, Dr. King and Robert Kennedy, were murdered. The Vietnam War was still in raging. And my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware was in flames and the National Guard stationed on every corner.
But like you, while I was here at this great university, I had the good fortune to have professors who helped me put this chaos that surrounded us in perspective. Dr. Dolan, Dr. Igersoll, Dr. Munroe, Dr. Bennett, Dr. Bolinski and so many others -- they not only taught me, they advised me. They challenged me. They helped me understand the change that was happening. But most importantly they argued that it was within our power to fix America -— because of the incredible foundation upon which this nation was built.
They reinforced what my parents taught me that while America’s -— what Americans value most is equity, fairness and justice. And it will -- it will -- prevail. They also reminded me that intolerance for the abuse of power and the arrogance that flows from it is stamped into the DNA of Americans; and that the related values of personal integrity, respect for individual autonomy, family, community, and a country formed a sense of purpose for most of us.
They gave me confidence in myself and confidence in the resiliency of the United States of America. And only several years after I walked off this campus, they once again stood with me as I announced my candidacy for the United States Senate as a 29-year-old kid determined to be part of the change; determined to end the war in Vietnam; determined to make permanent the Voting Rights Act; determined to bring nuclear escalation into nuclear reduction; and determined to demand that my sister, who did better than I did here -- (laughter) -- my sister and all the women of her generation would have every single opportunity I had. (Applause.)
And our generation did that or started that. And now it’s your chance -— you’re graduating into a world that is changing just as profoundly -- different dangers, but also incredible possibilities. And you have significantly more tools.
The dangers are abundant: fear of international terrorism and stateless actors possibly possessing weapons of mass destruction; pandemic disease; climate change; global inequity; rising powers and failing states.
But each of these challenges, each of these alternations that are taking place also present great opportunity. The poet William Butler Yeats wrote about his Ireland in 1916, the First Rising. It was called, Easter Sunday 1916. And there was a line in that poem that I think better characterizes the world into which you are graduating than even it did his Ireland in 1916. He said, “All’s changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty has been born.” All has changed utterly since you stepped into your first class in high school through today.
Today, stateless actors not only create a threat, but an opportunity. They're bringing together civilized nations in a common cause to wipe them out. The effects of climate change are real and must be acted on, they're generating phenomenal breakthroughs and rapid growth in renewable energy -- electric vehicles that will travel 300 miles, filling up with electrons cheaper than gas; solar energy and natural gas -- solar energy as cheap as natural gas and coal.
The fear of pandemic disease is real, but it’s also propelled an entire generation of scientists and doctors to find the tools not only to prevent disease, but to cure diseases that once were viewed as impossible to cure.
Within the next 15 years, as Chairman Coleman can tell you, the majority of hunger in the world will be vanquished as a consequence of crops that don’t need as much soil, water or fertilizer, or any pesticides in which to thrive.
Consider the progress we’ve made just since you’ve been here in civil rights: the right to marry the person you love. (Applause.) The right of a woman to make her own health care decisions. (Applause.) The right of millions of people living in the shadows to earn a pathway to citizenship. (Applause.)
We’re in the midst of incredible technological breakthroughs as frighteningly laid out by your president. (Laughter.) Just consider how much has changed just since you got to this point: 3D printers restoring tissue after traumatic injury, restoring skin damaged by fire to unblemished skin; hospitals testing the printing of organs for organ transplants. We’re on the verge of regenerating organs and limbs that have been damaged and lost, saving tens of thousands of life and restoring wounded soldiers to their full capacities; speech recognition on your iPhone that has gone mainstream; software that translates in real-time conversations into multiple languages.
Let me tell you what we’re on the cusp of: engineering white blood cells to attack cancer tumors -— allowing cancer patients to live with chronic disease without depending on difficult and painful chemotherapy, as well as radiation; sequencing the entire human genome within an hour, delivering rapid personalized medicine.
Investments in the public and private sector in innovation are astounding: supercomputers performing 100 times faster than the fastest computer on Earth today -— transforming, revolutionizing science, medicine, and applied technology; strong, lightweight materials that are used by NASA that are now cheap enough to be used in automobiles, trucks, wind turbines.
Before you are in your mid 30s, you’ll be getting in an automobile if you live in suburbia programming it, driving to work while reading all you need to do to prepare for that day, and there will be 80 percent fewer accidents while you’re on that commute, vastly improving productivity.
Now, I could go on, but some of you will say maybe I’m a little too optimistic. I’m always referred to as the White House Optimist, like I’m the new guy on the team. I’ve been around unfortunately longer than all of them. (Laughter.)
The reason I’m optimistic is I know the history of the journey of this country, and it is always, always, always forward. Always better. (Applause.)
And you, you are citizens of a nation that is better positioned than any country in the world to lead the 21st century, economically, politically and socially. We’ve ended one war in Iraq, and we’re about to end the second war in Afghanistan, thank God. (Applause.) And our security is guaranteed by the most powerful military in the history of the world. But we’re becoming known just not for the power -- the example of our power, but for the power of our example. That's why today we’re the most respected nation in the world according to the Pew Foundation in every area of the world.
Our economy that you’re graduating into is two and half times bigger than the next biggest economy in the world. Our workers are three times as productive as Chinese workers. Our energy is cheaper and more plentiful than in Asia and Europe. And by 2020, North America will be the epicenter of energy for the world.
We have the world’s best research universities, the best legal system. It’s fair, open, and dependable. We have the most agile venture capital system in the world, and we lead the world in innovation and technology. And we have you. You are the best educated, most engaged class that has ever graduated from this university. (Applause.)
You are better prepared to handle the complexities of a global economy -— fully one third of you studied abroad, preparing you for an ever more interconnected world. More than half of this graduating class -- more than half -- are women, a powerful statement -- (applause) -- a powerful statement to the rest of the world where the rights of women are denied, ignored and trampled on. And we see it every day from Nigeria to Pakistan.
I have traveled almost 920,000 miles just since being Vice President. I have known virtually every major leader in the world for the bulk of my career. And the one -- the one -- thing they wonder aloud about the most, and the one thing the women in their country desire the most is why can't they be more like women in America. And that's a fact. (Applause.)
All of you represent what makes this country exceptional. But there is one thing that I ask you to take on faith: Neither optimism nor pessimism enables you to predict your future. But I am absolutely confident that only confidence and an optimistic attitude will enable you to take a hand in shaping your future. Because whenever the American people have been given a chance, they have never, ever, ever let their country down. And ultimately, they’ve always answered to their better angels.
Let me close with a story. I said I started as a young man on this campus seized with the Civil Rights Movement in the country. I came back to Wilmington as a young lawyer, and not figuratively, literally, Wilmington was ablaze. I went to work for a really fine law firm. But after a few months I realized in the midst of the chaos and the city I loved occupied by the National Guard, I should do something else. So I quit and became a public defender. And part of my job as a public defender when there was chaos in the city was to go down to the Wilmington train station, where the National Guard bivouacked overlooking the Third Street Bridge in the east side of Wilmington to interview some of my clients who were in trouble. And I wondered then whether things would ever, ever heal.
And it struck me that almost 40 years to the day that I stood on that platform as a young public defender, I was standing there again. It was January 18, 2009. I was standing with my family and thousands upon thousands of Delawareans waiting for a young black man who was leaving Philadelphia on an Amtrak train to pick me up to ride the 124 miles where we would both be sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States of America. (Applause.)
So my hope and optimism is based on the trajectory of this country. And you have the most incredible, incredible opportunity that you’re about to step into. Folks, it’s never been a good bet to bet against America. And never bet against your generation.
Class of 2014, the possibilities are unlimited, and so are America’s. So please, don't listen to the cynics, don't let those who tell you our best days are behind us. We’re just starting, and you’re going to change the world for us for the better.
God bless you all. Class of ’14, go get ‘em. (Applause.)
9:39 A.M. EDT