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Jill Biden Shares Experiences, Seeks to Motivate in Speech at Penn State

by on October 11, 2017 3:45 PM

Jill Biden took the Eisenhower Auditorium stage on Tuesday night as part of Penn State's 2017-2018 Distinguished Speaker Series presented by the Student Programming Association.

The former second lady of the United States spoke about her experiences, not only in her role in Washington, D.C., but also as a mother, grandmother, a community college English professor, and as a leader.

Biden explained the last time she visited Penn State’s campus was during her junior year of high school, searching for the perfect college fit. She ultimately went to the University of Delaware as an undergraduate

“I became a Blue Hen instead of a Nittany Lion, but I would’ve been a proud Lion, if not a Blue Hen.”

Joe Biden, who would become the nation's 47th vice president, proposed to the former Jill Jacobs multiple times before she said yes. Eventually, “Politics just became part of the equation within my life,” she said.

Biden said finding a balance between being a political figure, a mother, and an educator is one of the biggest challenges she’s faced. While raising her children, she also taught English at a community college in Delaware, at a public high school, and at a psychiatric hospital for adolescents.

“We all struggle to find a balance between family, ambitions, and careers” and “life’s tough,” she said.

Known as “Dr. B” to her students at Northern Virginia Community College, where she’s now a professor, Biden said she’s inspired by the nation’s students and their talents, abilities, and passions to create a better future for the United States. She discussed one of her class’s assignments, a ‘This I believe…’ paper.

"I believe in peace,” Biden proclaimed, noting, “When I got lost throughout my life…I turned to teaching.”

She was the first second lady to also hold an outside job while her husband served as vice president.

“I love what I do; it’s more than just a job for me. It’s a calling. It’s who I am,” Biden said. When her husband was elected vice president, she couldn’t give up what she worked so hard to do as an educator, so pursuing both “careers” was the only answer.

As second lady of the United States, Biden worked to support ending domestic violence. October is recognized as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

She told a story of a student in one of her college classes that suffered from horrid domestic violence. The student, who was being physically abused by her husband, was having a hard time in class and was haunted by trauma. Biden said she needed to be an advocate for this student, so she helped set up counseling services for her and increasingly noticed improvements in her class work.

“It takes a little help to make a big difference,” Biden said. “You’re not alone, it’s never your fault, we will fight for you everyday.”

Biden then sat down with the programming coordinator for the Gender Equity Center at Penn State, Jennifer Pencek.

Through this conversation, Biden encouraged students to learn to ask for help when they need help, and to just put one foot in front of the other everyday, even when events in their personal lives or the rest of the world make it seem difficult to do so.

“Go to your passions and strengths to make a difference in the world,” she advised students. “Find joy in each and every day.”

Biden closed with a quote from The Color Purple author Alice Walker: “Look closely at the present you are constructing, it should look like the future you are dreaming. Lead the way. You must be the agents of change. I am depending on you.”

Connor Pardoe is a Penn State student and writer for
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