CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden told Harvard University’s seniors that it’s their turn to take up the “dirty business of politics” and tackle the world’s problems.
In a speech at Harvard’s Class Day on Wednesday, the Democrat told hundreds of students that they’re graduating at a time of great change and anxiety, and that their prestigious degrees come with an obligation to become politically engaged in the nation’s affairs.
“All has changed utterly, but it’s up to you, the generation of this graduating class, to determine where such utter change will lead us,” Biden said. “You have a chance to actually help bend the arc of history closer to where we want as a nation.”
During his 45-minute speech in Harvard Yard, Biden appeared to offer veiled criticism of President Donald Trump. He warned that politicians who “play on fears and appeal to baser instincts” can still achieve power, and he criticized those who blame Muslims and minorities for their problems.
“I thought we had passed the days when it was acceptable for politicians of all levels to bestow legitimacy on hate speech or fringe ideologies,” he said. “But the world is changing so rapidly that there are an awful lot of folks out there, not just in the United States but around the world, who are both afraid of the change and susceptible to this kind of negative appeal.”
More broadly, he blasted elected officials across the political spectrum for settling with “incrementalism,” saying, “America has always thought big and boldly, what has happened to us?”
But Biden’s message was primarily optimistic. He praised Boston residents for rallying after the deadly Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, saying it was proof that “America never gives up.” He said that despite competition from China, the United States remains better positioned than any other nation in the world. And he said today’s college students are fully capable of confronting the problems they inherited, from climate change to the threat of pandemic disease.
“You’re better equipped to tackle the challenges than my generation was,” he said. “You’re the best-educated, most-talented, most-engaged generation this country has ever, ever produced. That is not hyperbole, that is a fact.”
Biden served six terms as a U.S. senator for Delaware before becoming vice president under Barack Obama in 2009. He left office this year and is now leading policy institutes at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware.
Harvard’s graduation events drew several former Obama administration officials to campus on Wednesday. Former Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the graduating class of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, while former deputy attorney general Sally Yates spoke to graduates of Harvard Law School.
Biden also delivered the commencement address at Morgan State University in Baltimore and Colby College in Maine this year, and he is scheduled to speak at the senior convocation for New York’s Cornell University this weekend.