President Joe Biden told graduates Saturday at his alma mater, the University of Delaware, that “now it's your hour,” as he encouraged young people in the United States to help the country live up to its ideals.
Speaking to more than 6,000 graduates, and with the nation mourning victims of two mass shootings in as many weeks. Biden lamented the division and hatred in the country he governs. He bemoaned a “crisis of faith” in U.S. institutions and he pressed graduates to work to bind up the country's wounds.
“Your generation, more than anyone else will have to answer the question, Who are we? What do we stand for? What do we believe? Who will we be?" Biden said. “You can make the difference, you can lift the country up, you can meet the challenges of our time."
“There’s one message I hope you take from me today: This is no time to be on the sidelines,” he added. “We need all of you to get engaged in public life and the life of this nation.”
Biden told graduates to remember that “democracy is a human enterprise.”
“We do many things well,” the president said. “Sometimes we fall short. That’s true in our own lives. It’s true in the life of the nation. And yet democracy makes progress possible. And progress comes when we begin to see each other again not as enemies but as neighbors.’"
Biden spoke of the country's bitter division over Vietnam in the 1960s and the grief that followed the killings of “heroes” — two Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr. But through those tumultuous times came progress on civil rights and voting rights, for example, the president said.
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“Well, now it’s your hour. The challenges are immense, foreign and domestic, but so are the possibilities. … Everything is possible in America,’’ he said. ”This is a decisive decade for America at a time when we can choose the future we want, at a time when we must decide that darkness will not prevail over light.’
The president said this year's graduates have a head start, representing a generation that “is the most generous, the most tolerant, the least prejudiced, the best educated” in American history.
“Keep the faith and take it back," he exhorted. “Please. This is yours. Take it back. We need you.”
Biden also referred to the recent mass shootings: 19 children and two teachers were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, and on May 14, a gunman espousing racist hatred killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
“Too much violence. Too much fear. Too much grief,” Biden said in his graduation speech. “Let’s be clear: Evil came to that elementary school classroom in Texas, to that grocery store in New York, to far too many places where innocents have died.”
The president said that "we cannot outlaw tragedy, I know, but we can make America safer." He called on “all Americans at this hour to join hands and make your voices heard, to work together to make this nation what it can and should be.”
Biden was presented with the university's medal of distinction before his remarks. He had previously received an honorary degree in 2004.
Biden, who graduated from the university in 1965 with a double major in history and political science, served as a senator in Delaware for more than 30 years before becoming vice president. It was his fifth commencement address at the university, where the school of public policy and administration bears his name. He also spoke to graduates in 1978, 1987, 2004 and 2014. His sister, Valerie Biden Owens, and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, also graduated from the university.
“It feels like coming home because this is home," Biden said, reflecting that “Some of the best and most important years of my life were spent here.”