Vice President Joe Biden today offered a poignant personal reflection on the Civil Rights movement and his subsequent role in the administration of the first black U.S. president, urging graduates at a Florida high school to dream big and “imagine the progress you will see and achieve in your lifetime.”
“When Bull Connor sicced his dogs on women and children peacefully assembling in their Sunday best, it awakened an entire nation and inspired my generation, a generation most of whom had never seen anything like that before,” Biden said of the infamous Birmingham, Ala., police commissioner in his commencement address at Cyprus Bay High School in Weston, Fla.
“And many people of my parents’ generation and mine wondered, would we ever be able to bring this country together, to live together? Would we ever be able to have real equality in the face of that kind of brutality that the television screen brought into our living rooms?” he recalled.
Biden said that as a young public defender, fresh out of law school, he “still imagined, with my generation, that we could heal this God-awful situation.”
Decades later, shortly after Election Day 2008, Biden said he powerfully realized just how far the country had come.
“Forty years from the time Dr. King was assassinated, I was standing on a railroad platform in Wilmington, Delaware,” he said. “It was January 17, 2009 — a bitter, cold, but glorious day. Thousands of people were in the streets of Wilmington and the parking lots, waiting for the same thing I was.
“As I stood on that platform and waited, I looked out over my city — a part of the city that was in chaos when I had returned 40 years earlier, when I imagined and prayed we could live together,” he said. “I was standing there with those thousands of other people, waiting for a man on a train coming from Philadelphia to pick me up and take me a short 125-mile train ride, a ride I had literally taken several thousand times before as a U.S. senator, to Washington D.C.; only, this time, for a very different purpose, I was being picked up by a friend, and African American friend. Barack Obama.
“We were taking that short ride to be sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States of America,” Biden said. “Not only can and do we live together — we now govern together. That much can change in 40 years. Just think what’s going to change in the next 40 years of your life.”