Not even the rain and cold could keep the usually-dormant student body inside on Friday, when former Blue Hen and Vice President Joe Biden made his official return to the university with an address to students, faculty and community members on the North Green.
The event had an atmosphere comparable to that of a pep rally, with cheerleaders dancing on-stage to the tune of “Delaware Forever” and other songs performed by the university’s marching band. The crowd contributed to the excitement with repeated chants of “Biden is Back.”
President Dennis Assanis delivered the event’s opening remarks, rallying the crowd around the return of alumnus Biden — a “true Blue Hen” whose return constitutes “a special moment in the history of the University of Delaware.” Assanis voiced optimism that Biden’s return, primarily through the new Biden Domestic Policy Institute, will place the university at the forefront of social and scientific progress.
“He knows more about public policy than anybody,” Assanis said. “And [the Institute] will allow students and faculty to work with some of today’s most important issues, such as the environment, making safer communities, making people healthier and ensuring civil rights for everyone. Whatever challenges you want to tackle, you will need to know how to make your solutions work in the real world. That’s where public policy comes in.”
Biden then took to the microphone, reminiscing about his time at the university. He recounted his first stroll down The Green as a first-generation college student, recalling a sense of motivation and importance that the university evoked in him. He credited his sister Valerie, who also attended the university, to his successful campaigns over the years, contrasting the roles they assumed during their time in college.
“Valerie was on the Dean’s List the whole time,” Biden said. “I was on the Dean’s hit-list. They put me on social probation twice, when all I did was use a fire extinguisher on a R.A.”
Biden pointed to his sources of inspiration at the university, including the deans and professors who instilled a sense of civic obligation within him at a turbulent time. With the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement ongoing, Biden said that the social unrest — compounded by events such as the assassinations of his role models Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. — created a widespread discouragement of civic engagement during his undergraduate and law school years. He said that he hopes to inspire the millennial generation to become more politically involved through his work at the university, just as he was during his time there.
Biden elaborated on his plans for the Biden Institute, with aims to draw from students and the community in addressing civil and human rights, LGBTQ rights, social justice and income inequality, among other social and political issues. He referenced several individuals who will be involved with the Institute, such as Managing Director Mike Donilon, a leading political strategist and long-time consultant to Biden. Others mentioned were Don Graves, a prominent consultant known for his work to help revive Detroit, and Executive Director Cathy McLaughlin, the former director of the Harvard Institute of Politics.
Junior David Moss had the opportunity to interact with Biden before the speech, finding himself in the thick of things after class in Memorial Hall and hiding in a hallway when the police began to direct people out of the lobby. When Biden entered the building he pulled Moss from the small crowd, who told Biden that his mother, Pamela, adores the former VP.
“He [Biden] said, ‘Why don’t you get Pam on the phone?” Moss said. “I typed in the number and he took the phone from me and Facetimed my mom.”
Moss said that Biden offered his mother encouraging words about her son, reassuring her that “If I was his professor, I would give him an ‘A.’”
Chemical engineering professor and Faculty Senate president Prasad Dhurjati attended the rally and said he anticipates that the presence of Biden and the Institute will benefit everyone at the university.
“Having someone with the stature of Joe Biden is going to tremendously enhance the profile of the university,” Dhurjati said. “I think it will bring in traffic of many important people and elevate the intellectual climate at the university. I see all good here.”
Similar optimism was reflected among students, with hopes that Biden will play a direct role in improving the university itself. Junior Hannaleigh Scott finds Biden’s past support of sexual assault victims particularly encouraging.
“I have two younger sisters who are going to go here, so it’s really comforting to know that somebody who has been passionate about helping sexual assault victims is getting involved at a campus where it’s definitely an issue,” Scott said.
Biden concluded the event with a friendly invitation to students.
“When you see me walking down the campus, don’t pretend you don’t know me,” Biden said. “Say hi.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misquoted the former Vice President as saying he was on the dean’s “shit-list” rather than the dean’s “hit-list.”