COMMENCEMENT

Joe Biden says we have to be willing to risk failure to enjoy doing what really matters to us

Risk is the key to a good life. That was former US vice-president Joe Biden’s message to graduates today during his commencement address at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland.

The 74-year-old, who said he’s worked with eight presidents and hundreds of senators during his time in US politics, said the happiest and most successful among them managed to balance their personal lives with their careers, and find fulfillment in what they do. That, he said, takes risk.

There’s an incredible pressure on all of you to succeed… But you’ve got to resist the temptation of what others view as the right choice for you. Follow what you feel in your gut. That’s your North Star, trust it. To be successful and happy you have to be willing to run the risk of failure in the service of what matters to you, no matter what anyone else thinks.

During his years in politics, Biden said he travelled more than 8,300 roundtrips, and roughly 250 miles a day from Washington DC to his home in Delaware, to be see his family each night and be there when they woke up in the morning. It may not have been the smart move to some, he said, but “I did it because I needed my children.” The politician, who has mourned the death of his first wife, daughter, and son over the years, said his family grounded him through the loss.

The 30-minute heartfelt speech was met with cheers and applause from graduates at Morgan, the largest historically black college in Maryland. It was a sharp contrast to the commencement address US education secretary Betsy DeVos gave at another historically black college, where she barely got a word in among the steady stream of jeers that emanated from the students in the audience.

At Morgan, Biden talked frankly about racism and discrimination in American, which he called the country’s “original sin.”

He even quoted from the commencement address civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. gave at the same school in 1958. (“Changes which we witness in the world today are indicative of the fact that a new world is coming into being.”) And he empathized with the frustration and disappointment people who suffer from discrimination must feel when politicians “bestow legitimacy on hate speech and fringe ideologies.”

But he encouraged the students not to give up.

“You might feel a temptation, graduates, to withdraw, to write off the system as irredeemably flawed,” Biden said. “It’s understandable. But I assure you, if you remember nothing of what I say today but this, I assure you, it is temporary and it is transitory. It will not be sustained. The American people will not tolerate it,” he said, to applause.

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