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tv   Former Vice President Biden Delivers Colby College Commencement Address  CSPAN  May 27, 2017 8:25pm-9:04pm EDT

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value and what we consider success. >> next, another commencement address. this one from former vice president 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 minutes. >> [applause] mr. biden: thank you mr. president. thank you. thank you thank you thank you. >> [applause] mr. biden: thank you very much. thank you. i think maybe i should sit down now. >> [laughter] mr. biden: mr. president, it is an honor to be here. eric rosengren, chair of the board, colby trustees, especially my good friend pete rouse, colby trustee. >> [applause] i. biden: and i mean this --
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can say this without fear of conviction, one of the wisest councils that i ever think served as chief of staff to the president of the united states. of incredible personal integrity. and a good friend. i was friends with his mom and dad. they helped me when isaiah was a 20-year-old kid to get elected in his senate. 20-year-old kid to get elected to the senate. your trusty from delaware. i want to acknowledge you robert. thank you. >> [applause] degreeen: my fellow recipients and madam president, and mr. president, i have been to kabul a number of times. for you to complain about cold is hypocrisy.
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i have never been so damn cold as i was in my whole life in kabul. not as much snow, i acknowledge. thank you for choosing us. thank you for choosing colby. please, i mean this sincerely mr. president, come back. we need you. >> [applause] and amazing grace. where are you grace? i love you child. i am so so proud of grace. ladies and gentlemen, to your arteries, my congratulations. -- your honorees, my congratulations. my mother grace had an expression. she would say, look in my eyes honey. i give you my word as a biden,
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she said it 50 times. she said, remember, you are youned by your courage, and are redeemed by your loyalty. she did not know you, but she had you in mind. remember you are defined by your courage. to all of the proud colby moms and dads here, congratulations. you are about to get a pay raise. >> [laughter] mr. biden: no tuition this year for these guys. although maybe that is not quite true. dad, grandparents, family, made a lot of sacrifices to be here. so stand up and give them a che er. >> [applause] mr. biden: i find commencement
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speech is the most difficult to give. i mean this sincerely. the reason i do is because the faculty said, here we go again, my 15th commencement speech here. the students say, hurry up man, we have a party to go to. the parents say, say something meaningful to justify that tuition. >> [laughter] mr. biden: i am going to give it a try. i am inclined to do what a commencement speaker did the year that pete rouse graduated here when i graduated law school. bob hope was the commencement speaker at georgetown university that your. it was the middle of the vietnam war. he stood up after recognizing all of these celebrities and faculty. he looked at the students and said, i have one thing to say to you, don't go. and he sat down. >> [laughter] mr. biden: it was maybe the most meaningful commencement speech that year.
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2017, you made it. i am sure you arrived on this campus wondering what the next four years were going to be like. you did not know what to expect. ys later when the school chuck to out into the wilderness -- oh god you're mean up here. a wet sleeping bag? you did not really know what to expect. in those four years, colby had not only come to feel like home for most of you, i suspect it has become family. it is reflected in the way that you talk about this place. the students, leaders took you out into the was, your moms and dads.
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when you came together to share your lives with one another at the comments, that is not some mandatory meeting, it is story time. , the problem going on in congress now is that we don't tell stories with one another anymore. it sounds silly, but i mean it. we don't know each other anymore. when you know that somebody's mom has breast cancer or somebody's dad lost their job, for you know that you have a sister that is sick, it makes it hard to dislike that person. you get see their humanity. we used to know those things in congress. you know those things here i suspect from sunday night's. after listening to your speech, i finally understand all of those hashtags about oyu.
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>> [laughter] mr. biden: you will never forget the time you spend here hunkered down with friends and hoaring food so that you wouldn't have to leave the snowstorms, or reaching out to get a hungry jack when the dairy: opens in spring. cheering on a hockey team that beat bowden twice. >> [applause] mr. biden: the thing i hope you are member most from your time --e is the easels at colby the thos at colby that sought to instill in each and every one of you the obligation that you bear as individuals. a culture of mutual accountability and caring. in other words, be a mule. that is what it is all about.
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cycle churnedtion up some of the ugliest realities in our country. civilized discourse and real estate gave way to the coars rhetoric and stoking of our darkest emotion. i thought we had passed the days where it was exceptional -- was for politicians to be still hate speech, even if it is their silence. 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 are going to get by. people are being displaced by technology. the whole notion of digitalization. people are worried.
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a lot of people are worried. there is an overwhelming need for continual education. those of you that graduate in the sciences, within the next 15 years you will have to be reeducated. you can be an astrophysicist. so much is going to change. so much is going to happen to keep pace with your profession. you will have to be continually reeducated to keep up. a lot of people know that without any capacity to do it. they don't know how to get by. andaw how plain their fears appealing to their baser instincts can still be temporarily powerful in politics. we saw how appeals to the forces of populism can stoke anxiety and seeks to blame the troubles of a rapidly changing world on the other. it is always the outsider -- i wouldn't have lost my job but
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for-- the reason i am not doing well, the immigrant, the minority, the transgendered, anyone not like me became a scapegoat. there is a reason i am falling behind, why i can't get a job. and i imagine for many of you seen this unfold was incredibly 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. now is the time for engaged leadership. you have to hold on to 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.
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i mean that literally. you have to be responsible to join in the ceaseless work of perfecting a more perfect union. we hold these truths to be eelf-evident that all men ar created equal, that they are endowed by the creator with certain inalienable rights. think about what defines us as americans. you cannot define an american based on their ethnicity, based on religion. you cannot define an american based on anything other than an inherent acceptance of the notions contained within our institutional structures. we hold these truths self-evident that all men are created equal. we don't always practice it, but belong,that is why we no matter where we come from. it has been an uphill climb.
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we are nowhere near making it really got. we have not always lived up to our ideals. we are respected not around the world because of the exercise of our power but the power of our example. that is why we are we are. -- we are who we are. >> [applause] mr. biden: it is especially in moments when the world is in disarray and our politics is in chaos when there is a temptation to disengage, to throw our hands up. that is when it is most important to return to the basic principles. that is when we have to show ,hat our ideals remain undimmed and that it still matters to us as americans. that sounds corny, but it is really true. for me it goes back to something my father taught me. say -- and id to
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mean it. he was a grateful -- graceful high school educated man. he used to say, joey, every man woman and child is to be treated with respect and deserves to be treated with dignity. my father would never walk by somebody begging. dad, he is only going to use it to go out and drink. he woulddo you think rather do something then being out here and begging? whatever it is you have to treat people with dignity. the right to dignity serves these self-evident truths that we talk about. furthermore, when we treat people with dignity, when we equip them with the ability to care for their families and maintain dignity, it is harder for the politics of fear to find
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a home. today i want to talk to you about the importance of keeping dignity at the center of our and the center of your life as it you go out into the world. each of you has a responsibility. you all know it. you have been taught it before you came here, to treat people with dignity. you demand it for yourselves. you demand you be treated that way. and all of us have to do better when it comes to building the bonds of empathy that folks who can know weus understand them. we can't live in this self referential self-righteous echo chamber we build for ourselves online. living in our screens encourages shallow and antiseptic
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relationships that make it easy to reduce others to stereotypes, to write another human being off as a bad person instead of someone who just made a really bad decision. a person on the other side of the negotiating table, the other side of the political debate, a person who doesn't look like you, who lives in a community you never visited. a person that has a different background or religion than yours. someis not -- they are not flat 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. you have to work to a scribe to your opposition the same emotional complexity you find them yourself, that you possess.
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you are sunday storytime, learning to listen to one another, shaping your own story in turn, may be among the most important things you have learned spending time here at colby. so often over the course of time in public life, i found it comes down to being personal. it is all about being personal. all politics and international relations is personal. i have met every major world leader in the last 42 years without exception. i have met an awful lot of people that are supposedly, and in fact were powerful. i found that not all those who are successful are happy. i found the one common trait that those who found that sweet spot between success and happiness are those persons who are personal.
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caring about your colleague if they are dealing with a sick parent or a child graduating from college, for a child that was just an accident, that is the stuff that fosters real relationships, allows you to get things done in a complex world. it is the lesson i first learned when i got to the senate as a 30-year-old kid. i did not want to go to the senate. 3.ot elected on november i was down hiring my staff in washington dc. i got a phone call from a young woman who did not know me. is why they had her call me. -- that is why they had her call me. she said in a monotone, mr. biden, your wife is dead, your daughters are dead. i am not sure if your son is going to make it. you should come home now.
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my family was christmas shopping and a tractor-trailer broadsided them. suddenly everything changed. i learned a lesson from that. i didn't want to go. mike mansfield, some other senior senators said, come and be sworn in and only stay for six months. your wife worked hard to get here. you owe it to your family. but i didn't want to go. the day i was supposed to be sworn in i refused to go to the senate. onlyer learned i was the senator sworn in in the hospital because i didn't want to leave my sons. they sent the secretary of the senate to swear me in. used to haveield me come by his office every tuesday at 3:00 and give me an assignment. i thought all senators got assignments.
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no senator got an assignment. >> [laughter] mr. biden: i was the first senator i ever knew. i didn't know any better. it took me two months to figure out he was just taking my pulse. it was the end of may. on c-span easy those two -- you see those two doors senators always walk through. i wanted to see the last vote so i could catch the train to see 8300ys, which i did over times they told me. a i walked down the floor, strident fellow named jesse helms from north carolina was excoriating ted kennedy and another friend of mine, bob dole, for introducing the precursor for the americans with disabilities act. he was going on about it was not the role of government, and no
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one had a right to tell a county or business person to accommodate, etc. i thought he was being heartless. i sat down and senator mansfield said, what is the matter joe? i went on about how jesse helms had no social redeeming value, i thought he was terrible. he said, joe, what would you say if i told you that jesse helms, anee years ago, saw advertisement in early december for a young man with braces up to his hips 14 years old, saying all i want for christmas is someone to love me. ifsaid, what would you say jesse adopted that man as his own child? i said, i would feel like a fool. well, they did
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joe, it is always appropriate to question another man or woman's judgment, but it is never appropriate to question their motives. because you never know. once you? questione you motive, it makes it impossible to reach a copper mines. -- reach a compromise. 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 indignities. you have to be committed and allre, against any of those folks that want to dim the rights of other people. you can't start by questioning other people's motives.
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an injury to the rights of any person diminishes all of our humanity. defending that dignity requires an intolerance of abuse of power, that has been the underlying principle behind every issue i have gotten behind. i suspect that is the passion that guides your life. that is why i got involved in the civil rights movement doing sit-ins. that is why i joined the environmental movement when i got to the senate. that is why pushing back against companies polluting our environment, something i am sure many of you studied in your classes. ardt is why i pushed so h against a butcher in belgrade that was engaging in genocide.
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that is why i wrote the violence against women act in the late 1990's. that is why i remain committed to ending sexual assault, especially on campuses. >> [applause] mr. biden: 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 are capable of do,g any thing any man can that they are treated that way. each and every one of you has to stand up to the indignity of sexual assault. stand against the indignity of excusing harassment. his notion inding t
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locker rooms, the talk that goes on -- it does not go on like somebody said it does. stand up against the dignity -- michelle, congratulations on your award today. i am proud that colby recognized your commitment to preventing sexual violence. i know the entire colby community made a commitment to building a culture of consent for everyone here on campus, including joining the "it's on us" campaign, which i continue to be deeply involved in. i hope you will carry that conviction through this campus into your lives. hold onto all of those convictions you learn here. you will face temptations along the way to rationalize and make choices that put people second. everybody does. there is an incredible amount of
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pressure on your generation to succeed. you are already -- you have already accomplished so much. you notice if you slip into a bubble that validates certain choices, that prioritizes the social trappings of success rather than making a difference -- take the job, hang out in the place, live with people just like you, take note real risk, have no real impact. defending dignity is more about just watching out for your own opportunities or looking out for your own success. no matter what you think, you cannot erect a bubble around yourself and your family to protect them. this degree won't protect you from the changers -- from the pressures of a changing world. what happens to your community affects you. if your sister is a victim of domestic violence, you are violated.
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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 circumstances not worthy of us. and if you cannot breathe free and clean air, there is no place to hide no matter how much money and success you accomplish. >> [applause] folks, you have to reach beyond yourself. because we know what is possible when people get a chance to explore their talents without being held back. there is no better example of that then my dear friend george mitchell, the last in a long line of those in the u.s. senate, along with bob dole, that actually generated consensus in the senate. he went on to be a great diplomat and peacemaker, ending
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decades of conflict in northern ireland and quite literally saving hundreds of lives. george is a son of a janitor. his dad worked here at colby. his mom worked at a textile mill. understood what my dad would always say, your job is a lot more about -- lot more than a paycheck. it is about respect and your place in the community. it is being able to look your kid in the eye and say, it is going to be ok. the most helpful thing a parent can face is to look at a child with an opportunity for problem knowing there is not a thing they can do to help them with either one. they worked hard to give their kids lives filled with greater opportunity.
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to give george the chance to live a life of public service. like george, regardless of your background, remember where you came from. hold on to the way you reached out to mentor young people. hold on to the way you engaged in this community. make sure to bring that commitment to whatever walk of life you choose. of 2017, no graduating class gets to choose the world they are graduating into. that history has been written by those who came before you. now it is -- now it is time to bend the wheel of history in your direction. the journey is never complete. there are always new challenges i had, challenges that make it seem like it is too daunting to
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make any impact, any difference. individuals always make a difference. sometimes perspective is important. i remember what it felt like when i sat where you are sitting in 1968, graduating into an uncertain world. america year when fought the war in vietnam. thought, maybe we are not going to vietnam. maybe the war has ended. we were told there was a light at the end of the tunnel. lenny bruce the comedian said it turned out to be a freight train. the war supposedly was going to a close, but the viet cong launched an offensive in a seismic assault. there is an iconic photograph even you have seen of a policeman standing in a busy intersection in saigon, with the viet cong with his hands
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handcuffed behind his back with a revolver held to his head. a photographer captured him blowing the man's brains out. that bullet not only pierced the soldier's skull, but america's consciousness as well. it told everyone in my generation that there was no end in sight. there was no light. peaceful antiwar demonstrations turned up all over the country, and some turned violent. instead of the war winding down, violence in vietnam exploded the year that we graduated. 17,000 americans killed just that year alone. the war was supposed to end. johnsont lyndon announced he would not seek a second term. then in april dr. king was assassinated, gunned down in
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memphis. cities, including my own hometown of wilmington, delaware, went up in flames. my hometown is the only city in american history since the civil war occupied by the national guard for seven months. as i walked across that stage to receive my diploma that day, i learned the only political hero i ever had had just been assassinated. kennedy died in a kitchen in los angeles after having been declared the winner of the california primary, and a likely nominee. two: american heroes in a matter of weeks, and many more fallen americans in vietnam. for my graduating class, the once availing hope of better days ahead was gone, shot through with the pain and grief of a nation that viewed itself
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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 the history written for us up to that point, not by us. in spite of all that when i walk across the stage, i never doubted that we could change the history we were handed. it didn't matter that at the time the overwhelming zeitgeist was, just drop out, don't trust anyone over 30. that thely proud generation that graduated took to the streets, got involved, stepped up. 4 years later i ran against the war in vietnam and was elected to the u.s. senate, the same year that bill cohen was elected
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to congress. we were determined to end the war. not long after that i sent in the cabinet room across from president ford demanding to know what the final plan was. he finally turned to henry kissinger and said all right, lay it out. 4 weeks later bodies were being lifted off the top of a roof in saigon, and the war was ending. that 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 what will be on the other side. but there is no reason why your generation can't do the same thing better than ours did. you are better equipped. you are better educated. you are more informed, you are more engaged to deal with what
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lies ahead than my generation was. ladies and gentlemen, you have better. -- better tools. the power in that i found you have is 10 times more powerful tha all the computersn that sent a man to the moon. we have computers actually beginning able to produce body parts for transplants. software translates real-time conversations into multiple linkages. technology is there to fight climate change, cure cancer. i am optimistic. i don't think there is anything we can't overcome. if we remember our end who we have been driven to be, a nation grounded in dignity. a nation that thinks big. a nation of optimists that believes there is nothing beyond our capacity. what happened to that notion in america?
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we talked about things in incremental terms. when has that ever been the american spirit? when? there is an overwhelming reason to be optimistic. ost agile service of venture capitalism, the bettis -- the best research companies in the world. al every every other research center on the world combined is not equal the united states. it is time. it is time for america to get up . it is time to regain our sense purpose.and it is time to start realizing who in god's name we are. generationfor your
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to remember the admonitions of my philosophy professor. the lastr him leaving class and he looked at us and said, as if we all knew, you should remember what plato said. we all thought, what the hell is this going to be? mr. biden: he said something profound. augmented slightly. the penalty good people pay for not being involved in politics is being governed by people worse than themselves. all of the polling data shows your generation is by far the most tolerant, the most capable, the most engaged of any generation in history but it also shows you do not want to be engaged in politics. overwhelmingly, you do not want process.aged in the you have to be.
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you have to be. for our own safety's sake. god bless you all. enjoy the party. our troops.protect thank you. [applause] perot: will you accomplish everything you should accomplish? i have dealt with a lot of people like you in my career and one trait bothers me. you don't understand failure. you don't know what it is to get knockdown in pick yourself up again. you have to be to have -- you have to be tough. you have to develop that. you will have defeats and disappointments and if you quit, you will never contribute as much as you could with the wonderful mind you have. all of you who had to read it
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five times in struggle to get here, that is just a small number here i can see. you will be fine. [laughter] : you have a unique advantage. you have learned how to persevere, how not to quit. it will take you through life. you are survivors. you do not accept defeat. it is supposed to make you tough, you pay the price. you will do ok. that is a wonderful quality to have developed. to all of the graduates, i hope nobody feels special. i have nobody feels cocky. think you will all just 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 vietnam wondering if you will ever make sure. and yo


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