WATERVILLE, Maine, May 21, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Joseph R. Biden Jr., the 47th Vice President of the United States, told Colby College graduates on Sunday to help the nation return to basic principles of equality and dignity and to understand each other’s stories to develop a deeper sense of humanity.
“When you know somebody’s mom has breast cancer and you know somebody’s dad just lost his job,” he said, “it makes it hard to dislike that person. You get to understand and see their humanity. We used to know those things in Congress.
“Life can’t be lived in this self-referential, self-reinforcing, self-righteous echo chamber we’ve built for ourselves online. Living in our screens encourages shallow and antiseptic relationships that make it easy to reduce others to stereotypes. … They’re not some flattened version of humanity, reducible to a collection of parts and attributes. They’re a whole person, flawed, struggling to make it in the world just like you. You have to work to ascribe to your opposition the same emotional complexity you find in yourself that you possess.”
Noting that polls have shown that Millennials are capable and tolerant but reluctant to engage in politics, he exhorted graduates to join in the civic process. “No graduating class gets to choose the world they graduate into,” he said. “That history gets written by those who came before you. But now it’s your job to put your hands on the wheel and bend that arc of history closer to where we want to be as a nation.”
Of a trend toward rancor and loss of civility, Biden said, “I assure you it’s transitory. The American people will not sustain this attitude.” But, he said, change will come only if graduates use their education and abilities to join in “the ceaseless work of perfecting a more perfect union.”
Under a vivid blue sky, Biden spoke to a crowd of more than 3,000 at Colby’s 196th Commencement, as the College conferred degrees on 478 graduates from 36 states and 42 countries.
“This is a class that has dazzled and challenged us, and these graduates are ready to use their exceptional and unique talents to address the most pressing needs in our complex world,” said President David A. Greene. “If their time at Colby is any predictor, this graduating class will lead the way into the future with sharp, creative intellects and compassionate souls, with respect for others, and an openness to new ideas and perspectives.”
The nation needs more individuals who embody those skills and traits, Biden suggested. He acknowledged that globalization and evolving technology have hurt many Americans, and left them fearful about the future. But, Biden said, his voice ringing from the podium, “You cannot define an American based on their ethnicity. You cannot define an American based on their religion. You cannot define Americans by anything other than the acceptance of the notions contained within our institutional structures. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”
Before shaking the hand of—or hugging—every graduate who crossed the stage, Biden left them with a key takeaway from their Colby experience. “The thing that I hope you remember most from your time here is the ethos at Colby, that sought to instill in each and every one of you your sense of obligation that you bear to one another as individuals. A culture of mutual accountability—accountability and caring,” he said.
Biden received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Colby, one of four honorary degrees awarded Commencement Weekend. They are national editor of The Cook Political Report Amy Walter ’91, climate scientist Warren Washington, and historic preservationist Yoshihiro Takishita.
Class speaker Muhebullah Esmat of Kabul, Afghanistan, recounted his journey to Colby and the ways the College sets out to turn students into well-rounded clear communicators.
The class was led by Baturay Aydemir of Kayseri, Turkey, who, as the graduate with the highest grade point average, was class marshal. Aydemir plans to study medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Michelle Boucher, of Fryeburg, Maine, was given the Condon Medal for constructive citizenship, the only award presented at commencement.
Founded in 1813, Colby is one of America’s most selective colleges. Serving only undergraduates, Colby offers a rigorous academic program rooted in deep exploration of ideas and close interaction with world-class faculty scholars. Students pursue intellectual passions, choosing among 58 majors or developing their own. Independent and collaborative research, global opportunities, and internships offer robust opportunities to prepare students for postgraduate success. Colby is home to a community of 2,000 dedicated and diverse students from more than 80 countries. Its Waterville, Maine, location provides access to world-class research institutions and civic engagement experiences.
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SOURCE Colby College