“I want to get to everyone,” former Vice President Joe Biden said as he shook hands with the first row of students. There were 40 people in the room, and Biden was planning on taking his time with each one. Time constraints prevented the former vice president from making full rounds; nevertheless, Biden’s intentions illuminated his natural rectitude. For the next half hour, these qualities continued to shine.
The small Q&A session that preceded Biden’s main lecture provided the opportunity for a group of students to pose questions about topics of their choosing. Members from the Benton Scholars Program, Mosaic and Student Government Association (SGA) were invited to submit questions they wished to ask Biden. Nina Moore, Professor of Political Science, moderated the discussion by selecting questions at random and posing them aloud to Biden. She began with a question of her own, asking Biden to speak to his likability as a politician and the importance of integrity.
“When you treat people with respect, they can tell,” Biden said. He encouraged students to greet and thank service workers, and emphasized that identity is much more than job title.
“No pedigree or resume determines who you are,” Biden continued. “It is integrity, rather, that defines us.”
Biden next spoke about personal relationships, explaining that engaging in “social intercourse” can foster mutual understanding. The more people speak personally to each other, the better they can respect each other, and the better they can work together.
“It’s hard for me to dislike you if I know your mother has cancer or if you’ve just suffered a great loss,” Biden said.
Those who have heard Biden speak know that he talks at length. He is passionate and knowledgeable, and many of his responses to questions are punctuated by personal anecdotes. Biden is well aware of his long-windedness: as time began to run low, the former vice president joked that he would only be taking yes or no questions.
Soon, though, time did run out, and senior Sam Rodriguez was barred from asking Biden the final question of the session. But Biden insisted on staying over time so Rodriguez would have the opportunity to speak. Biden passed Rodriguez his microphone, and she asked him what institutions like Colgate could do to protect and support their students throughout the Trump administration.
Biden’s response was emotional and intense. He expressed frustration at rates of violence against women on college campuses and asked that all members of the Colgate community take steps to prevent sexual assault, calling those who do not intervene “damn cowards.”
Rodriguez was “thrilled” that Biden took the time to answer her question.
“I wasn’t surprised that he addressed it in respect to sexual violence on campuses given his background and work with the ‘It’s on Us’ campaign,” Rodriguez said. “I only wish we had more time in the session so that he could have taken some time to share his thoughts on protecting other aspects of student life and different experiences like those of undocumented or international students.”
Biden’s call to action echoed the larger themes of the session: responsibility and respect. As he encouraged students to act with integrity, he exemplified that very principle. Biden acted with graciousness, spoke with candor and expressed humility throughout the Q&A. The politician’s actions were both impressive and inspiring.