'You can inspire others,' Biden tells graduates
Published: Saturday, January 9, 2010
Updated: Sunday, January 10, 2010 02:01
Everyone has the ability, and obligation, to inspire others, second lady Jill Biden told members of the Class of 2009 graduating Saturday morning.
"I have no doubt that each and every one of you has the power to mentor and inspire our future generations of business leaders, artists, statesmen, and scientists," Biden said.
Biden, a university alumna and the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, spoke to the 400 graduates attending Winter Commencement, as well as the nearly 4,000 family members and friends cheering them on at the Bob Carpenter Center.
The university conferred more than 1,200 degrees during the two-hour ceremony, but that figure includes all students who have completed their degree requirements since May. Winter Commencement is optional, and many graduates choose not to attend.
Biden told the graduates that this was a day they would remember for the rest of their lives.
"Just three years ago, I was sitting right where you are, and it was one of the best days of my life," said Biden, whose husband presented her with her doctorate in education at the 2007 Winter Commencement. She also received her undergraduate degree at the university in 1975.
"I know that none of you will ever forget this day -- your day," she said. "Nor will those who supported you – your proud mothers and fathers; your husbands and wives; your sons and daughters; your grandparents and friends."
Biden, a long-time educator who still teaches English classes at a community college near Washington, D.C., made education the main theme of her speech.
"The University of Delaware transformed me because that's what education does," she said. "Your best professors can inspire you. Your peers can motivate you to be better than you ever imagined. Your favorite courses can literally alter the path you take in life."
University President Patrick Harker told graduates to develop a passion in something that surrounds them.
"Everyone wants to be interesting, but it's more important to be interested," Harker said. "The latter tends to secure the former anyway."
Humans are born problem-solvers, he said.
"But to solve problems, you must understand them," Harker said. "To understand them, you must engage with them. And to engage, you must be interested."
Reminding the graduates that he started out as a civil engineer before joining academia, Harker told students to be open to trying different career paths if the opportunity arises.
"Life is seldom linear, and sometimes the detours are just the change of scenery you need," he said.
For example, he said, if nurses turn their focus to public policy they could play a valuable role in shaping healthcare reform, and engineers could help tutor a student struggling in math.
Biden, too, spoke of the importance of mentoring.
"You can do whatever it is that you love, and by mentoring or volunteering outside of the classroom and in your community, you can inspire others to love that something else, too," she said.
Biden dedicated much of her speech to acknowledging several graduates who overcame obstacles to obtain their degree, such as Barbara Burlingame, who at age 59 finally earned her B.A. in English, and Lulu Song who was a journalist in China before meeting a university professor and deciding to travel to Newark to earn a doctorate in education.
"While you all came to this college at different stages in life, after sacrifice and hard work, you all walk across the same stage today having accomplished something no one can ever take away from you -- your education," she said.
Biden grew emotional talking about her mother-in-law, Jean Biden, who died Friday at the age of 92.
"Education was one of the values that Mom-mom treasured the most in life for herself and her children," she said. "I will never forget driving down our driveway after my commencement - and Mom-mom being the first to proudly point to the signs the family had made which said: "Welcome to the home of Dr. and Senator Biden."
Due to the death of his mother, Joe Biden did not attend the commencement ceremony as was originally planned.
The second lady encouraged graduates to open their eyes to the world and to help others imagine their full potential.
"You owe it not only to them, but also to yourselves to pass it along—that knowledge, that passion, and now, that well-deserved University of Delaware degree," she said.