Vice President of the United States Joe Biden: "You are going to change the world for us."

165th Commencement

UD, Vice President Biden celebrate newest graduates from Class of 2014

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4:30 p.m., May 31, 2014--Graced by nearly picture perfect weather, graduates and their families and friends celebrated the University of Delaware’s 165th Commencement held Saturday, May 31, at Delaware Stadium. 

Vice President Joe Biden, himself a UD alumnus, was introduced by University Provost Domenico Grasso.

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“[Biden] knows that success takes hard work and perseverance,” Grasso said. “And he knows that setbacks — from the merely frustrating to the truly devastating — can set the stage for recovery, renewal and, ultimately, reward.”

After asking students to recognize the support given by their families, Biden also asked all present to give a round of applause for veterans graduating and for those about to enter into the U.S. armed forces. 

Biden added a light-hearted touch with a nod to Harold (Tubby) Raymond, former UD head football coach and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame who was on hand for the event.

“When I came to UD, it was to play football,” Biden said. “Coach, I want you to observe that I finally made it into the end zone.” 

Forgoing the offering of advice, Biden noted that no class ever gets to choose the world into which it graduates.

“When every class enters into the history of the nation, that history up to that point has been written by others,” Biden said. “Once every couple of generations, a graduating class will enter a point in our history where they actually have a chance to change the trajectory of their country.”

Because it is entering at such an “inflection point,” the Class of 2014 has a chance to “grasp the situation and to bend history just a little bit,” Biden said.

“This is the moment into which you are graduating,” he said, recalling his own graduation in 1965 and the “transformative moments” on the UD campus.

The world into which he entered was characterized by a nuclear arms race with the former Soviet Union, a civil rights movement that was faced by increasing violence and a generational gulf caused by differences over the Vietnam War. 

“On Nov. 22, 1963, on a brilliant sunny day, I stood on the steps of Hullihen Hall and learned that President John F. Kennedy had just been assassinated,” Biden said. “In the spring in which I graduated from law school, the only heroes I ever had in public life, Dr. (Martin Luther) King and Robert Kennedy were murdered.”

Biden also recalled how the war in southeast Asia was still raging, and how his favorite town of Wilmington, Delaware, was in flames with National Guard troops stationed on every corner.

It was at this time, Biden said, that several professors at UD helped to put the chaos that surrounded him into perspective. 

“They not only taught me, they challenged me and helped me understand the change that was happening,” Biden said. “Most importantly, they argued that it was in our power to fix America, because of the incredible foundation upon which this nation was built.” 

Biden noted that this perspective reinforced what his parents had taught him: that what Americans value the most is equity, fairness and justice, and that the nation will prevail even in times of turmoil from within and without. 

“Now, it’s your chance,” Biden said. “You’re graduating into a world that is changing just as profoundly. There are different dangers but also incredible possibilities, but you have significantly more tools.” 

Recalling a line from Easter, 1916 by Irish poet William Butler Yeats -- “All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born” -- Biden said that the Class of 2014 also is graduating into a world where all has changed.

“You are citizens of a nation that is better positioned than any country in the world to lead in the 21st century, economically, politically and socially, ” Biden said. “We are becoming known not just by the example of our power, but for the power of our example.”

In describing himself as “the White House optimist,” Biden said this outlook is based on the trajectory of America and the incredible opportunity of the world into which the Class of 2014 is entering. 

“Don’t listen to the cynics, don’t let them tell you our best days are behind us,” Biden said. “We’re just starting, and you are going to change the world for us. God bless all of you.” 

Biden’s speech was followed by a standing ovation, and a special gift of a framed Fightin’ Blue Hens football jersey presented by Raymond, Director of Athletics Eric Ziady and graduating football players Andrew Pierce and Justin Burns. 

President Harker touts ‘beta approach’

University President Patrick Harker greeted the Class of 2014 and its guests on what he described as a fantastic day to graduate.

Harker also extended a Blue Hen welcome to distinguished faculty and trustees, honorary degree recipients and Biden. 

Noting that although the graduates would be leaving the campus that same day, Harker said that the Blue Hen spirit would help keep them connected to their University for years to come. 

“You will go on to do great things and you will continue to make us proud,” Harker said. “For the achievements you have already accumulated and those that await you, let’s have another round of applause for today’s graduates.”

Harker enjoined the graduating class that grew up in the digital age to meet the challenge posed by smart machines with the human spirit of creativity and innovation.

“The machines are coming for you,” Harker said. “I don’t think they are malicious yet, though that’s what the movies would have you believe.”

The Hollywood perception of human existence taken over by machines was seen in films including The Matrix, 2001: A Space Odyssey and in the malevolent title character in the Terminator, Harker said. 

“Computers aren’t exactly becoming sentient, but they are acquiring skills and capabilities at an extraordinary rate — an exponential rate,” Harker said. “It’s easy to forget it’s our keystrokes setting this evolution in motion.” 

Rather than taking the machines head on in areas where they already do things better, Harker recommended doing things that computers don’t through creative initiative and big picture planning. 

“People are still especially good at coming up with especially good ideas,” Harker said. “We can recognize large-scale patterns and combine different sets of data in different ways to solve complex and persistent problems.”

Harker also urged students to find a way to share the prosperity that comes with technological advances, to shrink the ever-widening gap in wealth, mobility and freedom, and  to become teachers.

“We can give back what we take from technology by teaching others the skills that can’t be automated,” Harker said. “We can strive to imbue in our colleagues the creativity and ingenuity that sets us apart from machines to propel our growth intellectually, professionally and spiritually.”

Urging the newest Blue Hens to enrich the lives of others with courage and compassion, Harker cited the words of the late Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Imploring the graduates to keep on learning with each new job opportunity, Harker noted that some of the best product launches in recent history were guided by a powerful motto -- “always in beta, always trouble shooting and always improving.” 

“Today, do something you’ve never seen a computer do — have fun, Harker said. “And tomorrow, get back to work.”

For the complete text of Harker’s remarks, click here.

Jonathan Smith, a member of the Class of 2014 and recipient of the F. Warren James Memorial Award, earned a warm round of applause for his soaring performance of the national anthem. 

Harker recognized the Senior Class Gift of $6,800, which represented the contributions of one in every seven seniors and will be used to impact 33 different areas on campus. 

A procession of alumni helped open Commencement and Kenneth Jones, president of the University of Delaware Alumni Association, welcomed the organization’s newest members and urged them to stay connected with their alma mater and give back through a wide variety of volunteering opportunities. 

Jones also led the newest Blue Hens in attaching UD Alumni Association pins to their hoods and hats as part of the traditional pinning ceremony.

The ceremony concluded with the singing of the UD alma mater.

Related stories and resources

• Follow the conversation on social media by checking out UD’s Commencement Storify page.
• See more Commencement photographs at UD in Photos.
• A video of Commencement is available.
Honorary degrees were presented to four outstanding individuals.
• Ten members of the Class of 2014 were honored as high index seniors, with perfect grade point averages.
Alumni are an important part of Commencement.
• Commencement was thrice as nice for the Manning family.
• A doctoral hooding ceremony was held on Friday.
• The UD Honors Program held a celebratory breakfast on Friday.

Article by Jerry Rhodes

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson, Evan Krape and Kevin Quinlan

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