SPEAKER 1: Please welcome the platform party as they make their way to the stage.
Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and join us for the singing of the national anthem as performed by the Cornell University Wind Symphony and Chorus and Glee Club
[MUSIC - FRANCIS SCOTT KEY, "THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER"]
(SINGING) Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming? Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming. And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave, for the land of the free, and the home of the brave.
SPEAKER 1: Good afternoon, trustees, faculty, students, family, friends, and my brothers and sisters of the Class of 2017.
Welcome to the 2017 Cornell University Convocation Ceremony. I am Chewy [? Baumouth, ?] your convocation committee chair. After tomorrow, I will be Matthew Baumel. After tomorrow, every one of you will move on to the next chapter of your life, Whether your own path leads you to Silicon Valley, Wall Street, graduate school, or public service, you will take with you the common themes, the culture, the understanding of the power of diversity, duty, and curiosity that is so much a part of our experience together here at Cornell.
We have a great weekend planned for you this year. Today, you will hear from the 47th Vice President of the United States Joe Biden.
One of the great statesmen of our time and an important voice for our generation. You will also hear, for the first time on the big stage, from our new university president Martha Pollack.
I am sure that throughout the weekend, we will receive plenty of advice from speakers, from members of our administration, from our peers, and from our families about what we should do next and how we should do it. Well, I have no advice for you at all. I am as confused and nervous as you are. But I know one thing. Today belongs to us. It is our last day together here at Cornell seniors. For one last day, the future is ahead. For one last day, we know we can accomplish anything. For one last day, we know that we can take our place alongside leaders like Joe Biden to shape the future of our country and the world.
We have all eaten late night mozzarella sticks at Nasty's, dreaded 8:40 AM classes. Some of us have avoided trouble on wine tours. And we have heckled Harvard's goalie. We have seen the coming and going of historic presidents, as well as dignitaries from all over the world. We started together in 2013 with Kesha. And we have arrived here together, four years later, with Vice President Joe Biden.
But please, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year-- do not forget that we are all here together today. Whether we meet again in New York, San Francisco, London, or anywhere else, remember that although the world will know me as Matthew, I will always be Chewy to you. And wherever we all find ourselves in the four corners of the world, we will always be the brothers and sisters of the Cornell University Class of 2017.
Thank you very much. I would now like to introduce senior class president, Lauren Lang.
SPEAKER 1: Thank you to the administration, staff, parents, and guests for joining us. And congratulations to the graduates we celebrate today. For those of you whom I've not had the pleasure of meeting, my name is Lauren Lang, and I currently serve as the senior class president. It is my honor to present the senior class address this afternoon as a culmination of our last four years on campus.
I realize that every student in the audience has a unique Cornell experience. That being said, all of us started our time on the Hill the same way-- with an acceptance letter that recognized years of perseverance and drive. In August of 2013, we packed up our bags and headed to Cornell from all corners of the world. We sat in this very spot during our freshman convocation and heard stories about the friends we would meet and the experiences we would have during our time on the Hill. It was also the first time we entered the time-honored joke that Ithica has two seasons-- winter and construction.
At that time, we did not realize how accurate a statement this would be over the next four years. On our first day in Ithica, there was a great deal of excitement about the future. These same feelings of uncertainty and exhilaration are here yet again as we prepare to take our next steps on the journey of life.
Our freshman year was a whirlwind. We enrolled in our first college courses, became acquainted with Ithica, and survived our first set of prelims and finals. Sophomore year, too, flew by as we forged new friendships while reinforcing existing ones. It was then that we formally decided on our course of study and began to take on larger roles in our extracurricular activities.
Junior year took on a bittersweet tone as we watched friends leave and return from study abroad programs, co-ops, and internships. Some of us had the opportunity to participate in these ourselves. Finally, senior year rolled around. We gathered together to celebrate our final year on the Hill in the midst of finding jobs, finishing honors theses, or just scrambling to fulfill those last coursework requirements.
But today, we made it. We thought it would never come. But the day has arrived-- graduation. When I was searching for inspiration to sum up our four years at Cornell, I wanted to find something that has been ever present from 2013 to today. Therefore, I turn to something we see on campus every day-- the Cosmos, a piece of artwork by American artist Leo Villareal.
To many of us, this piece is better known as the dazzling light installation on the ceiling of the Johnson Museum Sculpture Court. If you have not had the chance to see this amazing light sculpture, I encourage you to do so before you leave Ithica. The stories of the Cosmos journey is quintessential to what, in my mind, it means to be a Cornellian. Today, I'd like to share that story with you.
Villareal, a contemporary American artist, was inspired to create the Cosmos at the Burning Man Festival. Due to the festival's hectic nature, Villareal struggled to locate the camper in which he slept and lived in during the event's duration. To help solve this problem, Villareal put lights on his camper that flashed in unique patterns. What he discovered was the lights not only helped him find his camper, but it also brought a group of other festival goers to his vehicle.
In 2010, alumni Lisa and Richard Baker, generously donated the resulting installation to the university. Originally, the Bakers wanted the piece of artwork to be placed in The Statler, but the School of Hotel Administration politely declined. Luckily, the Johnson Museum jumped at the opportunity. And the Cosmos found its home there. The Cosmos was originally intended to be at the Johnson for only a few months. However, it became a permanent fixture at the museum following overwhelming praise from members of the Cornell community.
Every night, you can watch students stop on the arts quad to watch the beautiful LED lights transform into the cosmos of our imagination. I tell this story because it contains a couple of valuable lessons for our graduates as they leave the Hill. First, inspiration can come from anywhere, even the Burning Man festival. Secondly, our journey as Cornellians does not end today. As Lisa and Richard Baker demonstrated, there are always ways to get back to the place that we have called home for the last four years.
The Cosmos also teaches us about persistence. Even if you initially receive a "no" to something that you seek, your journey may not end there. There are always alternative solutions. And in many cases, as in the case of the Cosmos, the alternative solution leads to sustain success. Additionally, the story emphasizes that if you do good, meaningful work, people will notice and want to keep you around, just as the beautiful Cosmos has become a permanent exhibit here at Cornell. Finally, this piece teaches us to see the light in everyone, which is surely something we've done with our friends, classmates, and professors over the last four years.
To the graduates, I hope as you leave Cornell and start a new journey that you drawn some of the lessons of the Cosmos and continue to search for the light in every person that you meet. Congratulations, Class of 2017. And thank you.
At this time, please enjoy the musical selection of "The Hill" by George F. Pond sang by the Cornell University Chorus and Glee Club.
[MUSIC - GEORGE F. POND, "THE HILL"]
(SINGING) I wake at night and think I hear remembered chimes. And mem'ry brings in visions clear enchanted times. Beneath green elms with branches bowed in springtime suns. Or touching elbows in a crowd of eager ones. Again, I'm hurrying past the tow'rs or with the teams. Or spending precious idling hours in golden dreams. O, Cornell, of the kindly heart, the friendly hand, my love burns for clear for you in distant land. O fates that shape the lives of men, vouchsafe that I, before I die, may tread the Hill again. O, Cornell, of the kindly heart, the friendly hand, my love burns for clear for you in distant land. O fates that shape the lives of men, vouchsafe that I, before I die, may tread the Hill again. May tread the Hill again.
MATTHEW BAUMEL: I'm humbled to introduce, for the first time at any convocation ceremony, our 14th president of Cornell University, Martha Pollack.
A bold thinker, leader in the fields of computer and information sciences, and widely-regarded, published researcher in the areas of artificial intelligence, President Pollack brings amazing scholarship, intellectualism, and leadership to Cornell. Her honored professional service is unheralded. And President Pollack has already dynamically and enthusiastically engaged the entire Cornell community. So once again, please join me in welcoming for the historic first of many convocations to come, Cornell University President Martha Pollack.
MARTHA POLLACK: Thank you. Clearly, we need to keep Chewy around, so he can keep introducing me in future years. But I do want to thank you, Matthew. And I want to thank both you and Lauren Lang for your leadership of the Class of 2017. And once again, welcome to the Class of 2017, family and friends of graduates, and members of the wider community. I'm delighted to celebrate the senior convocation with all of you and to warmly congratulate all of our graduating seniors.
The senior class has chosen for its convocation speaker one of the key figures in our national government over the past several decades, the man whom President Barack Obama called "One of the most consequential vice presidents in American history." Joseph R. Biden Jr. established his political credentials early. He graduated from the University of Delaware and Syracuse University College of Law. And two years later, he was elected to the Newcastle County council in Delaware.
Two years after that, at age 29, he won election to the United States Senate. Personable, outspoken, and proud of his working class origins in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and in Delaware, he was re-elected six times, serving from 1973 until he became vice president in 2009. A major legislative achievement of his Senate career was the Violence Against Women Act, which addresses sexual assault and domestic violence, and which became law in 1994.
Mr. Biden served eight years as vice president of the United States of America under President Obama. Drawing on his experience in the Senate, he played an active role in foreign policy. His talent for establishing personal relationships with foreign leaders helped him to mediate between contentious parties and effectively manage United States relations in many challenging areas, including Ukraine, Iraq, and Central America.
Mr. Biden also led the White House task force on cancer, outlining an effort widely called, the "Cancer Moonshot," aimed at speeding scientific progress towards prevention, treatment, and cure. In January of this year, President Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction. The citation credits Mr. Biden with fighting for a stronger middle class, a fairer judicial system, and a smarter foreign policy-- providing unyielding support for our troops, combating crime and violence against women, leading our quest to cure cancer, and safeguarding the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act from corruption. But Mr.--
But Mr. Biden's impact does not end with his departure from office. His leadership on cancer continues as one of the focal points of the Biden Foundation, which he recently launched with his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. The Foundation also works on several other issues, including foreign policy, protecting children, and strengthening the middle class. Mr. Biden will also teach at the University of Pennsylvania, where he's been named the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor. And he is the founding chair of the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware.
Despite personal tragedies that have darkened many years of his life, Mr. Biden has always prove resilient and determined to serve the public good. And it is, thus, my great honor to introduce you now to a remarkable American leader, Mr. Joe Biden.
JOE BIDEN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.
Madam President, standing here in this field, my, first words that come to mind are, "Put me in, Coach. I'm ready to play."
What a great, great, great, great university. And congratulations, Madam President, on your impending inauguration. And I hope they've warned you about selfies. And I want to say to my mom who's looking down to the moms here, I did offer Lauren my coat. She's got goose bumps, but she wouldn't take my coat. But I did offer. My mother would kill me had I not. You all think I'm kidding. I'm not kidding.
And I want to thank the senior class and the convocation committee for inviting me to speak here today. I am truly, and I mean this sincerely, I'm honored. I'm honored to be asked. I have loved Cornell. Cornell is one of the great, great universities in the world. And I want you to know that there are three great ones. They're all land-grant schools-- MIT, Cornell, and Delaware. And we're all land-grant schools.
And I almost came here to law school. But I couldn't get enough financial aid. And so I-- y'all think I'm kidding. I'm not. But part of that was I barely got in. So I ended up going to Syracuse University. Everybody thinks I went because they gave me a full scholarship, which they did. That's not the reason. I went to Syracuse because they get more snow than you get here off the lake. And I married a Skaneateles girl. I think this is, when the sun is shining, the most beautiful part of the world. She lived on Skaneateles Lake. And I really do.
And I got a chance to talk with some of the Cornell grads, soon-to-be grads, beforehand. Madam President, I tell you what-- this child is going-- I told her when she's President of the United States and I bring my great-grandchildren by, and they say that Joe Biden is in the waiting room, I don't want her to say, "Joe who?" That's the only promise I asked of her.
And Chewy, I can tell you something, man. You're never getting rid of that nickname. You can go to Wall Street. You can go to Japan. You can go to China. You can go to you're going to be Chewy. And people are going to be proud to know you. They're going to be proud to know you.
I also got a chance to meet Rebecca Schwartz, your valedictorian from your Comms Department, who was in the line. And I'm sure there's a lot of other people if I get a chance, I'd like to meet as well who are graduating. You guys are a truly impressive group.
Ladies and gentlemen, but I've got to admit to you the real reason I came today. I love ice cream.
I'm the only Irishman you guys know who's never had a drink and loves ice cream. And your Dean of the School of Agriculture told me that this is the best ice cream because y'all have the smartest cows up here. So good to see ya, Big Red. It's good to be here.
To all the family members and loved ones in the audience, particularly the moms and dads, congratulations. You all get a pay raise today. No more undergraduate tuition. Look at it that way, man. Look at it that way.
And I'm going to ask you something you're going to think is corny, but I mean it. All you graduates, stand up, and give your parents a round of applause, and thank them. Thank them for what they've done for you.
But I don't know, man. Do you guys know what your kids have been doing up here?
Do you know what the most popular course of this campus is? Wines. Wines. Pass/Fail Wines. I don't know about that, man. I hope some of you will forgive me. A couple of days ago, I was speaking at another one of your Ivy League rivals earlier this week. Hope you don't hold it against me. And I hope you sure in hell don't throw any fish at me. I know you know the school. It's that safety school. At least, that's what my son at Yale and my son and daughter Penn called it.
I tell you what, how many opposing goalies have the line of faithful tormented over all the years here? I mean, you guys are tough, man. I married a Philadelphia girl. They are the meanest, smartest, lousiest fans in the world. But throwing fish at them-- I tell you. You all are good, man. You all are good. I tell you, the Philadelphia Flyers would love you. They'd love you.
It's amazing what all that snow has done to your temperament. As I said, I understand snow. I understand this the first time you've had what, three, four snow days in 15 years or so, or a long time. I just want you all to know, they didn't do that for you. They did that for the professors.
Look, it's time to celebrate. No more prelims. You're about to graduate. And God knows I know you'll miss Olin Library. I know you'll miss it badly. But except maybe for those two guys I saw as I flew over Lake Cayugas I landed here, trying to pass their swimming test. I hope to hell you fish them out. Cornell's a great place. It's one most beautiful campuses, I think, in the entire country. And I've been on hundreds, literally, over the last 40 years. And I hope it's been full of great memories for you.
I hope this last week you've spent some time relieving some of the great memories you've had the last four years-- your last trip to the CTB, one more school at the dairy bar, maybe a tray ride down the Libe Slope. I hope to hell you didn't try it this year in the spring. But some of you probably did. The friends you've made here are likely to be with you the rest of your life, the people you're going to be able to look to. So hold on tight to the memories you have here. This has been a wonderful trip for the vast majority of you.
No graduating class gets to choose the world into which they graduate. Tomorrow when you walk across the stage to receive your diploma, you're going to enter a world where there are a lot of Americans uncertain and anxious about their futures. Globalization has cost some of them their livelihoods. As your president, can tell you digitalization, Moore's law, artificial intelligence, with overwhelming, significant promise, is also generating great anxiety among the great working middle class of this country.
Some communities are struggling to get by. And they're worried that they won't be able to keep up. And we saw how playing to their fears, rather than their hopes, rather than their better angels, can still be a powerful political tool. As I said several times, this commencement season, this past election cycle churned up some of the ugliest realities that still remain in our country. Civilized discourse and real debate gave way to the coarsest rhetoric stroking, our darkest emotions.
I thought we had passed the days where it was acceptable for political leaders at local and national levels to bestow legitimacy on hate speech and fringe ideologies. But the world is changing so rapidly, there are a lot of folks out there who are both afraid and susceptible to this kind of negative appeal. We saw the forces of populism not only here, but around the world, called to close our nation's gates against the challenges of a rapidly changing world.
The immigrant, the minority, the transgender, anyone not like me became a scapegoat. Just build a wall. Keep Muslims from coming to the United States. They're the reason I can't compete. That's why I don't have a job. That's why I worry about my safety.
And imagine-- I imagine, like me, many of you have seen this unfold was incredibly disorienting and disheartening. Your reaction, your graduates in particular, is understandable. But I assure you that this is a temporary state of affairs. The American people will not sustain this attitude for long. I promise you.
In the moments like this, it's more important than ever that we get back to basics, that we hold fast to what has always made America great and unique. To me, and it's basic. It's down to a simple idea that every single person is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. It's in our DNA.
It's in the fabric of our declaration, our constitution. It sounds corny, but we do hold these truths self-evident that all men and women are created equal. It's the uniting feature of what makes us who we are. You cannot define an American based on ethnicity, religion, race.
America is an idea. That's the uniqueness of who we are. And it's embodied in what we say we believe, even when we haven't lived up to our ideals. Dignity has been part of our national ethic because we know that if people are treated with respect, if we equip them with care, the capability to care for their families, to maintain their dignity, it's harder for the politics of fear to find a home.
For when a person is stripped of their dignity, they lose hope. My dad, who moved from Scranton because the job he had in the mid-'50s wasn't enough to take care of the family and set up in Delaware and was able to take care of us again-- every time he hear someone lost their job, my dad would look at me and say, Joey-- and I mean this sincerely. My word as a Biden. Joey, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It's about your dignity. It's about respect. It's about your place in the community. It's about being able to put your child in the eye and say, honey, it's going to be OK. It's that basic.
Your parents can tell you the single most helpless thing a parent can face is looking in the eyes of their child with an enormous opportunity or significant problem and know there's nothing they can do to help. Look, folks, the American people aren't looking for a handout. They're not looking for government to solve their problems. But at a minimum, they expect their government to understand their problems-- just understand their problems.
And it helps when this generation that's emerging reaches out-- because all of this is personal-- and tries to understand, understand, the people you're dealing with, understand their problems. It's an awful lot harder to dislike someone when you know their dad is dying of prostate cancer. Or they have a brother with a drug problem. Or they just lost their mom. You may fundamentally disagree with them. But it's hard to dislike them. It's hard to question motive. And that's all we do today is question motive. But when you do that, you can never get to a resolution.
If I say your motive is that you are in the pocket of this, or you are unethical about that, it's awful hard to reach a consensus. And you can't govern this country without consensus. It's the way we talk to one another, way we act toward one another that really matters. You don't need years of experience or even an Ivy League degree to put this into practice. It's pretty basic stuff.
Everything from your marriage, to your job, to your neighborhood, to your country works better when we actually take time to look out for the other guy, just treat them a little bit of dignity and decency. In our neighborhoods, as well as our national institutions, everything works better when we honor that uniquely American, uniquely egalitarian ideal-- access to opportunity and recognize that everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity. It's not that complicated.
I believe, from that uniquely American perspective, sprung this outstanding university. Quote, "I would found an institution where any person, any person who could find instruction in any study." Cornell wasn't just talking about white men. He wasn't just talking about those born in the United States, not just the wealthy. He was talking about any person with the desire, the drive, and the capacity to excel.
And Ezra Cornell meant what he said. His Response to a letter he received asking if a young black man could enroll was unequivocal. Send him Send him. Send him.
And look what's been sen. Who knows, they may be the next Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or the next Janet Reno, or the next Edwin Muskie, or Gabby Giffords who I'll see in two days, the next Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, the next Mae Jamison, or even, or even, Bill Nye the Science Guy. But really and truly think about it. And by the way, so can you be. So can you the graduating class be. And I hope you know that in no uncertain terms.
I know you expect graduation speakers to tell you what you're capable of and give you advice. I don't have a lot of advice. But I'll tell you what. I know one thing. The people I've known that are successful and happy are the people who treat others with the same dignity that they demand for themselves.
To do that, to do that, you're going to have to fight the urge. You're going to have to fight the urge to build a self-referential, self-reinforcing, and self-righteous echo chamber of yourself online. No, I mean it. I mean this sincerely. Living in your screens encourages shallow and antiseptic relationships that make it too easy to reduce the other, to reduce the other to stereotypes.
They're not flattened versions of humanity. They're not flattened version [INAUDIBLE] They're a whole person-- flawed, struggling to make the world better just like you, to make it in the world just like you. And you have to ascribe to those with whom you disagree the same emotional complexity you know yourself and that you possess. At the end of the day, for a person to be afforded dignity, there must be an absolute intolerance of the abuse of power.
My father had another expression. He really did. He said, Joey, the greatest sin you can commit is the abuse of power, whether it's economic manipulation, social manipulation, or physical intimidation. And to go on to say, everybody asks, why did I write the Violence Against Women Act? Was my mother abused? Was my-- no. My father, my father was a gentle man. But he said the cardinal sin of all sins was to raise your hand to a child or to a woman. That's what ignited my political passion throughout my life.
When I was a high school kid and a college kid in Delaware, I got involved in the civil rights movement because my state was still struggling. That's why I joined the environmental movement as I ran to push back companies polluting the Delaware River and our bay when I ran for the United States Senate. That's why I got criticized. But I make no apologies for looking at the president of a country named Slobodan Milosevic when he asked, what you think of me? I said, I think you're a damn war criminal. And I will spend the rest of my life seeing you're tried as one.
That's why I wrote and worked to pass the Violence Against Women Act because look, if you can't be free from physical abuse, the ability to reach the capacity that you had is diminished in a significant way. Today, today, we're on the verge, in my view, of being able to fundamentally change the culture in this country-- to fundamentally change the culture.
The press always asks me, when will you know you succeeded? I'll succeeded when not one single woman who was abused ever asks herself, what did I do? Not want single woman ever asks, what did I do?
And so folks, folks, as you go into the world, you're going to have an enormous amount of pressure, temptations along the way to rationalize, and to make choices that other people want you to make. And as you move through life, you may notice yourself slipping into a bubble that prioritize social trappings of success rather than doing what you know is right, what you feel in your heart is what you should do. Take this job. Live in this place. Hang out with people just like me. Take no real risk. And have no real impact.
Living a life of dignity is going to require more than just watching out for your own success. It's going to require-- you can't erect a bubble around you and your family. This degree won't protect you from the pressures of a changing world. And don't fool yourself into thinking that disengaging from the system that you believe is broken is going to hold you harmless from his failures. What happens in your country, your community, your neighborhood affects you.
If the nation is permanently riddled with as much income and equity today as it is and unable to create good middle class paying jobs in an age of artificial intelligence and automation, you're not going to thrive economically either. If your sister is a victim of domestic violence, you are violated. If your brother can't marry the man he loves, you are lessened. If your best friend, if your best friend has to worry about being profiled racially, you live in a circumstance unworthy of us. If the global rules that undermine our security for the last 70 years break down, we'll all be less free. We'll all be less safe. If the air we breathe is not clean, the water we drink is not pure, there is no way for you to hide. There is no way to hide.
You are the most engaged, tolerant, talented, and technologically advanced generation in the history of the United States of America. But none of that will matter very much if you don't engage in public affairs. I'm not saying you ought to go out and run for office. Recent study done by Harvard Kennedy School of the Millennial generation shows us the most engaged, tolerance, et cetera.
But it also shows something else. 58% say they know what happens in public affairs can fundamentally affect their lives. But only 7% of the women, only 9% of the whole population, thinks they are going to get engaged at all. You have a responsibility to engage and incredible opportunity, as well, when you do.
It's only moments of great change and upheaval, moments like this, you have a chance to actually bend history just a little bit to the way you want the nation to be. I know that sounds like a tall order. But sometimes, perspective can be helpful. I remember sitting not far from here, where you are today, on Syracuse University's campus on their football field in June of 1968. I was graduating from law school.
As we began our semester, we were certain that the war in Vietnam was about to end. And we wouldn't all have to go. But then the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive in an effort to end the war in one seismic, single assault. Two days into the offensive, a bullet fired in the streets of Saigon by a Vietnam police officer went into the skull of a handcuffed Vietnamese soldier. And a photographer captured that mayhem. That one bullet not only pierced that soldier's skull, it pierced America's consciousness. Even those of you graduating today probably have seen that iconic photo all these years later.
It brought home to everyone in my generation that there was no light at the end of the tunnel, that the comedian Lenny Bruce was right when he would say, "It's a freight train." Peaceful anti-war demonstrations turned violent all across America. And the violence in Vietnam exploded. That year alone, 17,000 of my generation died that year alone in Vietnam.
Shortly after that, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who coveted the presidency, announced he would not seek re-election. In April, Dr. King was assassinated-- a major political icon, a moral compass for the country-- gunned down in a balcony in Memphis. Cities, including my hometown in Wilmington, went up in flames. My city was the only city since reconstruction occupied by the National Guard with drawn bayonets on every corner for nine months. And in June, as I walked across that stage, my only political hero of my life, Robert Kennedy, was gunned down in a hotel in California after winning the primary and becoming the de facto nominee for president.
I can remember my colleagues and I look at each other as we graduated thinking, how could this be happening? But in spite of it all, I never doubted for one instant that we could rewrite the outcome we were careening toward. We got involved. We turned our anger and disappointment into resolve. And, I would argue, into positive change.
Four years later after I walked off that stage, I was being sworn in as s United States senator, determined to end the war in Vietnam. Not long after that, I sat across from President Ford as a freshman senator, the youngest person in the room, as they explained finally with Secretary Schlesinger and Kissinger, the plan to end the war in Vietnam. Five weeks later, the rooftop of the embassy of Saigon was evacuating people and the war was over.
So ladies and gentlemen, graduating seniors, never doubt your capacity to make a difference. There's no reason why you and your generation of the class of '17 can't have a similar more profound impact on this country than my generation did. And I mean it.
As I said, you're the most tolerant, talented, engaged generation in American history. You have better tools to tackle the challenges that lie ahead than my generation did. There's more power in that cell phone you have in your pocket or purse than the computer to put the man on the moon. 3D printers are restoring tissue after traumatic injury. Scientists are racing to figure out how to print human organs for transplant. Technology, technology is there to fight climate change. Cornell scientists are figuring out how to suppress the growth of brain cancer by inhibiting the ability of tumors to recruit other cells into a deadly malignancy.
So make no mistake about it. We are going to be able to end the scourge of cancer and do so much more. There's so many opportunities. I'm so optimistic about your generation. And I'm optimistic about this country. The United States has never been better positioned to lead the world than we are at this moment.
We have the most productive workers in the world, three times as productive as in Asia. The most agile venture capitalist system in the world, the greatest research universities in the world, thanks to Dwight Eisenhower. We have more great research universities in America than the rest of the world combined. And that's not hyperbole. And we're at the epicenter of energy in this new century.
And like I said, folks I've met every major world leader. I know every one of them leading their country now in a major country. I've spent more time with President Xi, for example, than any world leader. I've had 25 hours of private dinners with them. I've not met a single leader who wouldn't change places with the President of the United States in a heartbeat, in a heartbeat.
We have problems, but my God. And I'm so tired of both political parties. I'm so tired of the incrementalism. And I'm so tired of thinking small. When has America ever thought small? We never have.
It's time for America to get up. It's time to regain our sense of unity of purpose and remember who we are. With all the brainpower and energy I see in front of me, I know that nothing and no one in this world can beat us. And we want these other nations to do well. But God, the idea that we are somehow behind the eight ball-- it's time for the country to wake up.
And ladies and gentlemen, the graduating class of '17, go out and wake us up. God bless you all. May God protect our troops. And give my regards to Davy.
MATTHEW BAUMEL: Thank you, Mr. Biden, for offering your words of encouragement and wisdom with us today. Your continued drive and passion to create a better America is an inspiration to us all. On behalf of the senior class, it is my pleasure to present you with the 2017 Senior Convocation Medallion.
Mr. Biden, we recognize that your career has brought you to a lot of places and that you have received many honors. However, we also know that your years in this part of the state make you an honorary resident of the Finger Lakes region. So we want to extend a particular frozen "welcome home" for you. We wish to bestow an honor unique to our institution and to our region. Cornell Dairy has been working overtime. And with the help of the entire campus, we have developed a flavor especially to honor you and your appearance here today.
The ice cream is vanilla with powerful chunks of chocolate that are sure to be your vice after just one bite. Mr. Biden, we present you with your own flavor of Cornell Big, Red, White, and Biden Ice Cream.
JOE BIDEN: It's really good.
MATTHEW BAUMEL: He's right. Mr. Biden, thanks again for being here and taking part in this special day with us. I would now like to take this opportunity and introduce Vice President for Student and Campus Life, Ryan Lombardi, who will offer some closing remarks.
RYAN LOMBARDI: It is actually very good. Although, I'm not going to bring it up on the podium with me. Are you done with that yet, Mr. Vice President? We can get you another one if you need it. I think he would have done quite well here with our smart cows for sure.
He said, he actually mentioned the reason he came here was because of his love for ice cream. But I'm guessing that he knows that our football season this fall opens at the University of Delaware. And I've just got three words-- Let's Go Red. Sorry, Mr. Vice President.
JOE BIDEN: I played for Delaware [INAUDIBLE]
RYAN LOMBARDI: He said, "Put me in, Coach." I don't think there's much else I can say today. So all I'll say to the class of 2017 is thank you. I've heard you say, quite a bit over the last couple of days, I've heard you thanking Cornell for your experiences here, for all that Cornell gave to you. But as I said to you in a note a few days ago, we also want to thank you. Thank you for shaping this chapter in Cornell's storied history. The impact of your work over the past years has written the narrative for this moment in time that will become a part of Cornell's story.
Thank you also for caring enough to challenge Cornell to be better. You never settled. You never accepted the status quo. You pushed yourselves. And you pushed Cornell to continue to live up to its ambitious founding principles. And you fought for a more just community along the way.
Finally, thank you for making a difference in the lives of others. You cared. I watched you lift up your peers. I watched you provide support when it was needed most. I watched you show genuine compassion for your fellow humans, all the while embracing the opportunity to learn from those around you.
And in the great words of our esteemed speaker today, "I sincerely hope that you will continue with this spirit that you've embodied while you have been here at Cornell in all of your future pursuits." Please let our speaker be a guide for you as you continue to use what you have gained at Cornell for the social good of our world. Thank you again, and congratulations to the Cornell Class of 2017.
And don't worry there's some more of that ice cream. It will be on the arts quad at 2 o'clock. You can come get some. Now I ask, if you are able, to please rise and join the university chorus and the glee club in the singing of our Alma mater.
[MUSIC - "FAR ABOVE CAYUGA'S WATERS"]
[MUSIC - "MY OLD CORNELL"]
(SINGING) Oh, I want to go back to the old days, those good old days on the Hill. Back to my Cornell, for that's where they all yell. Cornell, I yell Cornell, Cornell! Far above Cayuga's waters, I hear those chiming bells. Oh I'm longing and yearning and always returning to my old Cornell.
[MUSIC - "THE NEW CORNELL FIGHT SONG"]
(SINGING) C- O- R-N- E- double L, win the game and then ring the bell. What's the big intrigue? We're the best in the Ivy League! Rah! Rah! Rah! Score the point that puts us ahead. Knock 'em dead, Big Red. 1- 2- 3- 4, who are we for? Can't you tell? Old Cornell.
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Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in January, gave the keynote address at this year's Senior Convocation, Saturday, May 27 at noon, during Cornell's 149th Commencement Weekend. Senior Class President Lauren Lang ’17 also spoke.