tv Former Vice President Biden Delivers Colby College Commencement Address CSPAN May 27, 2017 10:26am-11:07am EDT
it is only for stress and high blood pressure. [applause] >> so please don't settle for just breaking through glass ceilings in a broken corporate system or political system where so many leaders are disconnected from their wisdom they are careening from one crisis to another. than the n to a w at the top of the flow chart. wrongthe root of what is and redefine success. announcer 1: another commencement address, this one from former vice is it joe biden. he was at colby college in waterville, maine, where he talked about his time in the senate and urged graduates to be engaged in politics.
this is 35 minute. [applause] joe biden: thank you, mr. president. thank you, thank you. thank you, thank you, thank you. thank you. [applause] much.den: thank you very thank you. i think maybe i should sit down now. [laughter] joe biden: mr. president, it is an honor to be here. board colbyr of the trustees, especially my good friend dean rows, colby trustee. , i canean this without say this without fear of contradiction, one of the wisest councils ever served as chief of offf, pete is a man incredible personal integrity. and a good friend. i was friends with his mom dad
your they helped me when i was a 28-year-old kid announced for the senate to get elected, and he has become close friends with my deceased son beau biden and my other son. your trusty now living in washington, robert hoopes. thank you. my fellow on every, degree honorents -- on every -- e, degree recipients, and mr. president, it has been a couple times. for you to complain about cold is a democracy. i have never been so cold here. , not asnot make maine much snow, i acknowledge. thank you for choosing colby, president, come
back we need you. [applause] and amazing grace, where are you? god love you, child. i tell you what, i am so proud of grace. , your honorentlemen mother had ans expression. i mean it sincerely. she would say, look at my eyes. i give you my word as a biden. she would say, remember, you are defined by your courage and you are redeemed by your loyalty. gracie, she did not know you but she had you in mind. remember, remember.
you are defined by your courage. you know, to all the proud moms and dads, congratulations. you are about to get a pay raise. [laughter] joe biden: no tuition next year. maybe that is not quite true. your mom, dad, grandparents, your family made a lot of sacrifices for you to be here, so stand up and give them a cheer. stand up. [cheers] [applause] know, i findu commencement speech is the most difficult to give. i mean it sincerely. the reason i do is the fact, the faculty says, here we go again my 15th commencement speech to hear. ay, the students a, -- sy
hurry up, we have a party to go to. and parent say, say something meaningful to justify the tuition. [laughter] i will give it a try. i am inclined to do what the commencement speaker did the year that the cross graduated, bob hope was the commencement speaker at georgetown university that your. -- that year. it was the middle of the vietnam war and he stood up after recognizing all the celebrities and faculty as he turned and looked at the students and said i have one thing to say, don't go. and he sat down. [laughter] joe biden: the most meaningful speech given that year at commencement. but you know, i, the class of 2017, you made it. i'm sure you arrived on this campus wondering what the next four years would be like, you were not sure what to expect. and then a few days later when school chucked you out into the
wilderness, and those few days here -- areming up mean up. a wet sleeping bag, you do not know what to expect. hashose four years, colby not only come to feel like home for most of you, i expect it has become family. it has become family and the people you are graduating with, you keep reflecting, you talk about this place. the students, the leaders who took you out into the woods, moms and dads, when you came together on saturday night to share your sunday i guess it was, sunday night to share your lives with one another and that is not some mandatory meeting, i am told it is story time. as pete heardll me say many times, the problem that is going on in the congress
now is we do not tell stories anymore. it sounds silly, but i mean it. we do not know each other anymore. when you know somebody, mom has breast cancer, you know somebody dad's just lost his job, or a sister that is sick. it makes it hard to dislike that person. you get to understand the secret of humanity. we used in other things in congress. you know those things here, i suspect, on sunday nights. and now you are listening to your speech, i finally understand all those hashtags about you. [laughter] joe biden: you know. you will never forget the time that you spent here, hunkered down with friends, hoarding food so you would not have to leave the dorm during the snowstorms, or reaching out to each other to .et a hungry jack
team thatn a hockey beat bowden twice. [applause] i hopeen: but the thing you remember most from your time ethosis the ss -- the here that sought to instill your sense of obligation that you would know each other as individuals. a culture of mutual accountability, accountability, and caring. -- be a words, ba mule, that is what it is all about. this past election cycle turned up some of the ugliest realities in our country. civilized discourse and a real debate gave way to the course -- startingetoric and session stoking of our darkest emotions.
i thought we were past the days where it was acceptable for politicians at all levels to be fringestove -- bestow ideologies, even just by their silence. but the world is changing so rapidly, there are a lot of folks out there who are afraid. good people. we know globalization has not been a benefit for all communities, struggling to get by. people are being displaced by the whole notion of digitalization. people are worried, a lot of people are worried. there is an overwhelming need for continued education. those that graduate even in the sciences, within the next 15 years you will have to be reeducated. so much is going to change. so much is going to happen to keep pace with your profession,
you have to continually continually be reeducated to keep up. a lot of people out there know they have to do that without any capacity to do it. do not know how to get by. we saw how appealing to their fears and instincts rather than their better angels, as lincoln talked about, can still be at least temporarily powerful and politics. -- in politics. we saw how populism can seek to blame the troubles of a rapidly changing world on the other, it is always the outsider. i would not have lost my job before -- the reason i am not doing well, the immigrant, the minority, the transgender, anybody not like me, became a scapegoat. there is a reason i am falling behind. why i cannot get a job. seeingne for many of you
this unfold was incredible a disorienting and disheartening, a disheartening experience. it was for me and many americans across the country. and it is understandable, but i assure you, it is temporary. i assure you, it is transitory. the american people will not sustain this attitude. and now is the time for engagement in leadership, so you have to hold, you have to hold onto the colby mentality once you leave campus. because it will not only serve you well, it will serve our nation well. that is not hyperbole, i mean that literally. you have to be responsible to join into the ceaseless work of perfecting a more perfect union. we hold these truths self-evident, all men are created equal, they are in doubt by their creator with certain inalienable rights.
we say those things, but think about what defines us as americans coming cannot to find an american based on ethnicity, you cannot define an american based on religion, you cannot define america by anything other acceptance ofnt the notions contained within our institutional structures. we hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal. we do not with practice it, but we know that is why we belong. no matter where we come from. it has been a long, long time, and uphill climb to make it real and we are nowhere near making it real and we have not always lived up to our ideals. we are respected around the world, not because of the exercise of our power, but the power of our example. that is why we are who we are. [applause]
but, it is especially in moments when the world is in disarray and politics are in chaos, when there is a temptation to disengage, to throw our hands up, that is when it is most import for us to return to the basic principles, that is when we have to show our ideals remain undimmed, and it still matters to us as americans. it sounds corny, but it is really true. it is really true. for me, it goes back to something my father taught me. my father used to say, and i mean it, this is not a joke. my father was a graceful, high school educated man. a truly decent man. "every man, woman and child should be treated with respect and deserves to be treated with midi -- with dignity."
my father would never walk by somebody begging. i would say he is going to use it to go out and drink. he would say, "if he had a choice would he be standing there begging?" no matter who it is. they are entitled to be treated with dignity. it goes to the heart of what it american, the right to dignity is what holds up these self-evident truths, of which we always talk about. furthermore, when we treat people with american, the right to dignity, when we quip them with the ability to care for their families, it is harder for the politics and fear to find a home. so today, i want to talk to you about the importance of keeping dignity at the center of our society, and the center of your life as you go out into the world. folks, each of you has a responsibility. you all know it, you have been taught it here, taught it before
you came here. to treat people with dignity. you demand it for yourselves, you demand you be treated that way. have toof us, all of us do better when it comes to building the bonds of empathy that folks who are not like us, are not like us, can know that we understand them. they cannot be living in a self reinforcing, self echo chamber we both for ourselves online. encouragesur screens shallow relationships, it makes it easy to reduce others to stereotypes. offrite another human being as a bad person, rather than somebody who just made a really bad decision. a person on the other side of the negotiating table, the other side of the political debate, the person who doesn't look like
you, who lives in a community you have never visited, a person who has a different background, or religion than years -- yours. they are not some flattened version of humanity, reducible to a collection of parts and attributes. they are a whole person, flawed, struggling to make it in the world just like you. ascribe yourork to opposition the same emotional complexity you find in yourself, that you possess. your sunday storytime, learning to listen to one another, shape your own story in turn. it may be one of the most important things you have learned spending time here at colby. because so often, over the course of time and public life i have found it comes down to just being personable.
it is all about being personable. all politics, all international relations is personable. i have met every major world leader in the last 42 years, without exception. i have had an awful lot of people who are supposedly, in fact, are very powerful. that not all those who are successful are happy. and i have found the one common trait that those who found that sweet spot between success and happiness, those person better personal. caring about your colleague as they are dealing with a sick parent, or their child graduated from college, where the child is just an accident, that is the stuff that fosters real relationships, breeds trust, allows you to get things done in a complex world.
it is a lesson i first learned when i got to the senate as a 30 euros kid. -- 30-year-old kid. i didn't want to go to the senate. i was elected on november 3 and i was hiring my staff on december 18 in washington dc. i got a phone call from a young woman who did not know me and that is why they had her call me, and she said in monotone, mr. biden, your wife is dead. your daughter is dead. sure your sons are going to make a bid to come home. and everything changed. learned a lesson from that. i did not go, and mike mansfield, ed muskie, and some other senior senators said come and be sworn in and stay for six
months. only 1703 people have ever been sworn in, your wife worked hard to get you here, you owe it to your family. but i didn't want to go. the day was supposed to be sworn in i refuse to go to the senate, so i later learned i was probably the only senator in history ever sworn in in a hospital, because i do not want to leave my sons. they sent the secretary of the senate to swear me and. -- in. and senator mansfield who had more integrity in his finger them as people have in his whole body, he comes by every tuesday at 3:00, and he would give me an assignment. no senator gets an assignment. [laughter] joe biden: not a joke. i was the first senator. i didn't know any better. forook me a couple months me to figure out that he was taking my pulse to see how i was doing. it was the end of may, you see those two doors that the senators use a was on c-span?
i walked down to the floor of the senate to determine when the last vote was going to be so that i could catch the train to go home to see my boys, which i did over 8300 times, they tell me. and as i walked down the floor, a very is dried named jesse holmes from north carolina was excoriating ted kennedy and another good friend of mine, bob dole, who is still alive by the way, before introducing the precursor for the american's disability act. and he was going on how it was not the role of government and nobody had the right to tell a county or a business person or anybody else they had to curb cut, or buses had to accommodate, etc. i thought he was being heartless, so i sat down and senator mansfield looked at me and said, what is the matter joe? i went on for three minutes
talking about how jesse helms had no redeeming value, i thought he was terrible. he looked at me when i finished in second the what if i told you that jesse holmes, three years ago, sitting in his home in raleigh, north carolina with his wife thought in advertisements in early december for a young man with braces up to his hips, 14 years old, braces on his arms, saying all i want for christmas is for somebody to love me and take me home. what would you say if i told you that jesse and dot helms adopted that young man as their own child? i would say, i feel like a full. he said, well they did. always appropriate to question another man or woman judgment, but it is never appropriate to question their motive, because you do not know. and once you? questionce you
motive, you make it impossible to reach a compromise. i say you are in the pocket of, canou are unethical, or you talk about things that go to the heart of you as a person, it is also hard to reach an agreement on an issue that has to be resolved. at the same time, you have a responsibility to stand up against in dignities, you are committed, you have to be committed everywhere against any and all those folks out there that want to dim the rights of other people. but you cannot start by questioning peoples motives, because an injury to the rights of any person diminishes all of our humanity. know, if you-- you are defending the dignity and it requires abuse of power at the end of the day, the has been the underlying principle behind
every issue i've ever gotten involved in and i suspect all of you with your political passion and personal passion is directed throughout my life and i guess years. that is why i got involved in the civil rights movement doing citizens as a high school kid. that is why i enjoyed the environmental movement led by senator muskie. it is why pushing back against companies that are abusing their power, polluting our environment, something i am sure many of you studied in your classes. that is why i pushed so hard in belgrade,utcher who is literally engaging in genocide. that is why i worked so hard and wire wrote the women's act in the late 1990's. that is why i remain committed to ending sexual assault, especially on campuses. [applause] my father used to say
that the greatest sin was the abuse of power, and the cardinal sin of all sins was a man lifting his hand to a woman or child. women have the same exact right to be treated with dignity as a man. i am determined that my granddaughters, capable of doing anything a man can do, anything in man can do -- that they are treated that way. [applause] joe biden: so each and every one of you has to stand up to the indignity of sexual assault, stand against the indignity of excusing harassment, talk about ending this notion in locker rooms that the talk that goes on, it does not go on some but he said it does. stand up against in dignities of a culture that devalues women's humanity. michelle, congratulations to you and your award today, i'm so
glad kobe is recognizing your service to preventing -- colby's record as your service to preventing sexual violence. is entire colby community building a culture of consent for everyone here on campus, usluding joining the it's on campaign, which i continue to be involved in. i hope you carry that conviction with you off of this campus and throughout your lives. hold on to all those convictions you learned on the hill, because you are going to face temptations along the way to rationalize and make choices that the people second. -- put people second. everybody does. there is an incredible on my pressure on your generation to succeed. you already going through so much, but you might notice that you start slipping into a bubble that validates certain choices, that prioritizes the social trappings of success rather than making a difference.
place,e job, live in the hang out with people, just like you. take no real risks, have no real impact. defending dignity requires more than just watching out for your own opportunities or looking out for your own success, because no matter what you think, you cannot erect a bubble around yourself and your family to protect them. this degree will not protect you from the pressures of a changing world, as prestigious as it is. what happens to your community affects you. if your sister is a victim of domestic violence, you are violated. if your brother cannot marry the man he loves, you are lessened. if your best friend has to worry about being profiled, you live in a circumstance not worthy of us. and if you cannot breathe free air and clean air, there is no place to hide no matter how much
money and success you accomplish. so folks -- [applause] you have to reach beyond yourself. possiblee know what is when people get a chance to explore their talents without being held back. there is no better example of that than my dear friend, george mitchell. the last in a long line of majority leaders in the senate, along with bob dole, actually helped generate consensus in the senate. he went on to be a real diplomat and peacemaker, ending decades of conflict in northern ireland and quite literally saving hundreds and hundreds of lives. george is the son of a janitor. his dad worked right here at colby, his mother worked in a textile mill. he watched his parents.
my parents would say, your job is about more than a paycheck, it is about dignity, respect, it is about your place in the community. it is about being able to look your kid in the eye and say, honey, it is going to be ok. it is going to be ok. the parents can tell you the most helpful thing a parent can say, looking at it out as an opportunity or problem, knowing there is not a thing they can do to help them. and deal with either one. so folks, they worked hard to give their kids greater opportunity, to give georgia chance to go to college and then law school. a chance to choose a life of public service. so like george, regardless of your background, remember where you came from. hold on to the way that so many of you reached out to mentor a young person through the kobe cares about -- colby cares about kids. hold onto the way you engaged in
this community. make sure to bring that commitment to whatever walk of life that you choose. 2017, noass of graduating class gets to choose the world in which they gradually into. that history has been written by those that came before you, but now it is your job to put your hands on the wheel and bring history closer to where we want to be as a nation. perfecting this union is never complete, there is always new challenges ahead, challenges that may seem like it is too daunting for one person to have any impact, make any difference. but individuals always make a difference. sometimes prospective is important. i remember as idifference. sat where you are sitting now in 1968, graduating into an uncertain world. my final year, when america
fought the war in vietnam, they thought it was drawing to a close paid we thought -- close. we got the war was india. we were told there was a light at the end of the tunnel. it turned out to be a freight train. [laughter] joe biden: the war was supposedly coming to a close, yet the viet cong launched an in oneve to end the war seismic assault. two days into that, there is an iconic photograph, even you have seen even though it was years ago. the police man standing in an intersection in saigon with a viet cong with his hands handcuffed behind his back, holding the revolver to his head. a photographer captured it, blowing the man's brains out. the bullet not only pierced the soldiers all, it -- soldier's skull, it appears to america's
consciousness and it brought home to everybody in my generation, that was ready, that there was no end in sight. there was no light. peaceful demonstrations turned up all over the country and some turned violent, all across america. instead of the war winding down, the bombs in vietnam exploded that year. 17,000 americans killed that year, just that year alone, when the war was supposed to end. the sitting president, lyndon johnson, announced he would not seek a second term. then in april, dr. king was assassinated, gunned down in memphis. and my hometown, going up in flames. it was the only city in american war,ry since the civil occupied by the national guard, for seven months. as i walked across the stage to
receive my diploma that day i learned the only political hero i ever had had just been assassinated, the hope of my generation, bobby kennedy assassinated. and he died with that bullet in the kitchen and los angeles after having been declared the winner of the california primary, and the likely nominee. 2 fallen american heroes in a matter of weeks and many more fallen americans across the globe, in vietnam. for my generation, for my graduating class, the once hope of better days ahead was gone, shot through the pain and grief of a nation that viewed itself on the brink. and all throughout this great country, a sense of hopelessness and helplessness began to take hold. that was the world that pete and i entered into, that was history that was written for us up to that point, not by us.
but in spite of all that, as i walked across the stage i never doubted for one instance that we could change the history we were handed, that we could rewrite the outcome that we were heading toward. it did not matter at the time the overwhelming sight cast was, just drop out, do not trust anybody over 30, hate as barry. i am deeply proud of that graduating class, got to the streets, stepped up. four years later, i ran against -- the same year that bill:, a great friend of mine and a great senator he was elected to congress. we were both running republican democrats determined to end the war. not long after that, as set in the cabinet room as a young senator chris from president ford, demanded to know what the final plan was. he finally turned to henry kissinger and jim/injure and
said, ok, lay it out. four weeks later, bodies were being lifted off the top of the roof of the saigon. and the war was ended. was 1968, this is 2017. now it is your turn. you are graduating into a world of anxiety. you are walking across the stage without knowing exactly what you are going to do, what is going to be on the other side. but there is no reason why your generation cannot do the same and better than ours did. you are better equipped, you are better equipped and better educated. you are more informed, you are more engaged the deal with what lies ahead than my generation was. ladies and jenna mike, you are better -- ladies and gentlemen, you have better tools, the iphone you have is 10 times more powerful than all the computers
that send the man to the moon. we have 3-d printers, restoring tissue after dramatic injury, actually beginning to be liberty's body parts are transplants, software translates real-time conversations into mobile languages, technology is there to fight climate change, turkey and served -- and cure cancer. i am optimistic. i do not believe there is anything we cannot overcome. if we remember who we are and what we fully striven to become a nation grounded in dignity, a nation that thinks big, a nation of optimists the believe there is nothing beyond our compassion. what has happened to that notion? both political parties, we talk about things and incremental terms, when the hell has that ever been the american spirit? when? there is an overwhelming reason to be optimistic. i say to all you parents, the united states is better positioned than any nation in the world to own the 21st
century. we have the most productive workers in the world, the most agile service of venture capitalism, the bettis -- the best research companies in the world. all the other best research universities in the world combined to not equal what exists in the united states. time, it is time for america to get up. it is time to regain our sense of unity and purpose. it is time to start realizing who in god's name we are. and it is time for your generation to remember that on , what myon -- professor told me i remember he looked at us and said it as if we all knew, remember what plato said. and we all thought, what the hell does that mean?
he said something fairly profound. i will augment it slightly. he said, the penalty good people pay for not being involved in politics is being governed by people worse than themselves. all the polling data shows your generation is by far the most tolerant, the most capable, the most engaged of any generation in american history, but also shows you do not want to be engaged in politics, overwhelmingly you do not want to be engaged in the process. you have to be. you have to be. for our own safety sake. god bless you all. enjoy the parties. and may god protect our troops. thank you. [applause] [cheers] >> will you achieve your full potential? will you accomplish everything you ought to accomplish?
that is my challenge to you. i have dealt with a lot of people like you in my career. one trait bothers me. you do not understand failure, you never fail, you do not know what it is to get knocked down, pick yourself up and try again. you have got to be tough as well as smart, and you either have that quality or i know you will develop it, because as you go through life you will have defeats and disappointments, and if you quit you will never contribute as much as you could with the wonderful mind you are fortunate enough to have. not all of you had to struggle to get through here. here.just a small number you will be fine. [laughter] perot: you have a unique advantage, you have learned not
to quit and it will be an asset you take with you through life. you are survivors. you do not accept defeat. adversity makes you tough and do expect pay the price. you will do ok. it is a wonderful quality to develop. to all the graduates here today, i hope nobody feels special, i hope nobody feels cocky, i hope you all will just think about how fortunate you are to be here. you could be starving to death on the streets of india, you could be on a small boat off of vietnam, but you are here, and you have this opportunity, so please do not go through the phase of what we do when we are young, the american cocky or i am special phase. bring it close to home. some of you had scholarships, some of you pay tuition, but not a single person sitting up there
in a black robe today paid the full cost of going to this university. and there are folks as you drive away from here tonight who you see doing the honest, everyday work of the world. they may be farming in their fields, they are outside all day in the heat like we are for one short afternoon. they may be patching roads, they are doing the good, honest work of the world. they are taxpayers, they help pay your tuition. please, please do not ever forget it. [applause] who code founder reshma saujani was the commencement speaker at scripps college should --. she talked about her organization dedicated to encouraging women to pursue careers in science. this is 15 minutes. [applause]