The White House
Office of the Vice President
Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden at the Cypress Bay High School Graduation Ceremony
5:18 P.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Please, please be seated.
As a kid, this was my dream, standing at home plate at a major league ballpark, not as a speaker but as a batter. But I had to settle for becoming Vice President. (Laughter.)
Ladies and gentlemen, parents, the graduating class, grandparents, brothers and sisters, what a great day for all of you, the parents of those graduating today. To you, Principal Neely, affectionately known as the “Big Kahuna” -- (laughter) -- to the administrators, the faculty, this entire community, this is truly a remarkable school. What you’ve built in 10 years is amazing.
When Debbie asked me a while ago whether I would come down and be your commencement speaker, I was honored. But as she started to tell me about the school, I began to wonder whether or not she was just overselling to get me to come the day after my daughter’s wedding.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, you are absolutely amazing, and nothing is more amazing than you students. (Applause.) Class of 2012, you are a remarkable, remarkable group of graduates. (Applause.)
As we’ve heard from your principal, you haven’t just distinguished yourself on the field; you’ve distinguished yourself in every field: soccer championships, tennis championships, math championships, more AP tests than I can count and nationally ranked debaters.
More importantly, from my observation, it’s the atmosphere you’ve created here that has enabled you to excel; an atmosphere of acceptance and support for one another; a cohesion that is rare in any school, much less a school as big as this one.
If you can take that attitude with you –- the attitude where you don’t simply tolerate differences of background and opinion, you accept it, you even solicit the differences -- if you can take that with you, it will be one of the keys for your success in life, because there is nothing, nothing your world is going to need more than being able to accept, support, and work with people with very different views.
As the world shrinks, what happens in a remote province of Pakistan or Nigeria or Brazil is known by the entire world within a matter of minutes. The democratic movement that has swept across the Middle East, the so-called Arab Spring, began when a simple fruit vendor set himself on fire to protest a corrupt government. And a wildfire spread across a quarter of the world, a confrontation that was magnified by social media, and has set off a revolution. Isolation is obsolete today, even where it may still be desired.
But here’s the thing: As the world shrinks, the cultural divides in the world do not shrink. The lines marking cultural and religious differences do not blur. In fact, those lines become more stark as we confront those differences up close.
And those lines don’t have to be halfway across the world. You know that. They can be in your neighborhood or in your school. You can see them in the hallways, in the cafeteria, in the locker next to yours.
At the same time, the same technology that can inspire a democratic movement across the Middle East -- well, it can also bring a school or a community together or it can tear it apart. Information today moves fast, and the world you’re about to enter it will move even faster.
But so does gossip. You can build lifelong friendships and loyalties or tear someone down. Tolerance, respect and understanding are not some obsolete old notions that don’t matter anymore. In the new world you’re inheriting, they will matter more than they ever did in the history of mankind.
You know, there’s a lot of talk these days that America’s future is not as bright as its past. But I’m here to tell you don’t believe that not for a single moment. Class of 2012, you’re going to live through a period of the most remarkable and rapid technological, scientific and medical breakthroughs in the history of mankind. And we’re going to lead those changes from America. And you’re going to lead those changes as you leave this school.
So, don’t sell yourself short. Don’t think small. Don’t give in to the cynicism, the pettiness and the negativity that so often pervades our public discourse. Believe in yourself, and believe in the promise of this country.
And, imagine. That’s my simple advice to you today: Imagine. Imagine the progress you will see and achieve in your lifetime. Imagine the breakthroughs that are on the horizon and just beyond it.
Imagine, by the time you’re in a position to buy your first home, putting a roof of solar shingles that will cost no more than today’s ordinary shingles, will be able to power your home –- heating, cooling, running appliances -- at a fraction of the cost your parents pay today.
Imagine a day within your lifetime when doctors can and will engineer your white blood cells to attack cancer cells, and leave healthy cells untouched, allowing cancer patients to live out a full life without undergoing the difficulties some of you observe -- painful chemotherapy and radiation procedures.
Imagine the day, when in your lifetimes, doctors are able to regenerate entire body organs and limbs that have been damaged and lost -- not only saving tens of thousands of lives, but restoring the thousands of our Iraq and Afghan veterans coming back in need of prostheses, so they’ll be able to live a full and ambulatory life.
As an aside, in the future -- just one example -- using 3D printers, we’re going to be able to restore tissue after traumatic injury or a burn, restore it back to its original state. It’s literally around the corner.
Imagine a world in which hunger is vanquished by crops that don’t depend on the soil, water, or fertilizer or pesticides to thrive. They’re just around the corner. Imagine famine being a memory, and with it, the end of so much war and conflict that plagues so many parts of the world.
Imagine a world in which nations no longer depend on nuclear weapons for their defense.
And imagine a day when the lightweight materials, cleaner fuels, advanced engines simultaneously make our air cleaner, allowing us to go the equivalent of hundreds of miles to the gallon and maybe most importantly, freeing us from our dependence on foreign oil and all that entails for our nation. And imagine when your “senior spots” are all charging stations, powering up cars that can go hundreds of miles on a single charge.
What we imagine today, you will build tomorrow. And when you do, it will be revolutionary not only for your generation, but for this nation.
In this new world, you have a great advantage over so many others. And that advantage was instilled in you right here at Cypress Bay. You may not have seen it, you may not have recognized it, known it was even happening -- but it was, because beyond your academic excellence, here is what will separate those of you who will succeed from those of who will fail. And that is your ability to be able to discern between what’s noble and what is ignoble, between what is pure arrogance and what is done to genuinely help the lives of human beings.
You will need an appreciation and a capacity for tolerance, a tolerance of different traditions and different views. You will need an ability and a willingness to recognize that people pursue truth in different ways. You will need an innate skepticism about those who claim they have the answer when it comes to what is true and right.
The United States is at this moment, as a former President said, and I quote, “the indispensable nation,” not because we’re perfect, but because we’re tolerant, because we’re open. We reach out to others. We understand we cannot afford to waste anyone’s talents. And what makes -- and that’s the very thing that makes you the “indispensable generation”.
You’ll be at the forefront as we leave two wars behind us. You will be at the forefront in shaping whether the age in front of us is an age of deepening conflict or increasing tolerance. You will be determining not only the future of this country, but what its heart and soul is.
That’s why I started this speech by saying that what is most remarkable about you is the atmosphere of acceptance and support for one another, tolerance. I said at the beginning that technological change can cause cultural clashes. When I was a kid in grade school, it was the television that showed all of America how black America was being treated. When Bull Connor sicced his dogs on women and children peacefully assembling in their Sunday best, it awakened an entire nation and inspired my generation, a generation most of whom had never seen anything like that before.
And many people of my parents’ generation and mine wondered, would we ever be able to bring this country together, to live together? Would we ever be able to have real equality in the face of that kind of brutality that the television screen brought into our living rooms?
The Civil Rights movement -- which I was involved in, in my little small way at home -- reached a calamitous point when I was graduating from law school. Dr. Martin Luther king was assassinated in Memphis three months before my graduation day. There were riots in many cities in America, including my own. Wilmington, Delaware was burning. As a young public defender, I still imagined, with my generation, that we could heal this God-awful situation; that we could rise out of the ashes, and maybe find a way out together.
But the cynics told us we couldn’t. Then, 40 years from the time Dr. King was assassinated, I was standing on a railroad platform in Wilmington, Delaware. It was a January 17th, 2009 -- a bitter, cold, but glorious day. Thousands of people were in the streets of Wilmington and the parking lots, waiting for the same thing I was.
As I stood on that platform and waited, I looked out over my city -- a part of the city that was in chaos when I had returned 40 years earlier, when I imagined and prayed we could live together. I was standing there with those thousands of other people, waiting for a man on a train coming from Philadelphia to pick me up and take me a short 125-mile train ride, a ride I had literally taken several thousand times before as a U.S. senator, to Washington D.C.; only, this time, for a very different purpose, I was being picked up by a friend, and African American friend. Barack Obama. (Applause.)
We were taking -- regardless of your politics; this is not a political comment. It’s about transition in America. We were taking that short ride to be sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States of America. Not only can and do we live together -- we now govern together. That much can change in 40 years. Just think what’s going to change in the next 40 years of your life. (Applause.)
This is a good country. This is a decent and noble country. Your generation will take on the task entrusted to each generation, to give meaning to the central words -– the central challenge -– of our Constitution: “to form a more perfect union.” Because that’s what our country’s journey is all about. That’s what your journey is all about: to form a more perfect union.
And you start this journey better equipped than any graduation class that has come before you. You have the power to create more than the perfect union, and that power resides in you. Not in a laboratory. Not in a computer. But inside you. Don’t forget it. Remember what you learned here about decency, tolerance, reaching out, embracing differences. And if you do, my country, our country, will continue to be the greatest country in the history of mankind.
Congratulations, Cypress Bay [High School] Class of 2012. (Applause.)
5:38 P.M. EDT