Josh Haner / The New York Times

April 13, 2017

Former Vice President Joe Biden Named 2017 Convocation Speaker

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Joe Biden, the forty-seventh Vice President of the United States, will address Cornell’s Class of 2017 during Convocation on May 27.

The convocation committee worked through a list of over 500 potential speakers to choose someone “representative of the ideals of our prestigious university,” according to Matthew Baumel ’17, chair of Cornell’s Convocation Committee.

“We considered many candidates and, given the incredibly weighty issues present in our world today, we sought someone who, throughout their career, exhibited particularly outstanding character, leadership and service,” Baumel said.

Biden first entered the Senate from Delaware after defeating Republican incumbent Caleb Boggs — who was the heavy favorite — in 1972. At the age of 30, Biden was one of the youngest senators in U.S. history and served in that capacity for over three decades.

He ran for president twice throughout that time — first in 1988 and later in 2008. While neither of his presidential campaigns gathered significant momentum, he was named as Barack Obama’s running mate in the 2008 campaign.

After defeating John McCain and Sarah Palin, Obama and Biden were sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009. As vice president, Biden served as an important adviser to the president on foreign policy issues and fought against a variety of social issues.

In January, Obama surprised Biden by awarding him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Since he left the White House, Biden and his wife Jill have established the Biden Foundation to “protect and advance the rights and opportunities of all people through educational programming and public policy analysis,” according to its website.

“Vice President Biden is one of the most respected orators and politicians of our time,” Baumel said. “He exemplifies the principles of our generation relating to social issues such as women’s rights, criminal justice, the rights of the middle class and the American workforce.”

In addition to his political success, Biden also experienced significant tragedy throughout his career. Shortly after he was first elected to the Senate, his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident one week before Christmas in 1972. As a single father, Biden commuted every day between Wilmington, Del. and Washington D.C. to spend more time with his two sons Beau and Hunter.

After marrying his current wife Jill in 1977, Biden suffered further personal loss in 2015, when his son Beau died of brain cancer at the age of 46.

Known for his familiar speaking style, Biden — who will also be speaking at Harvard Class Day on May 24 — will bring his four decades of experience to Cornell amid significant turbulence in Washington D.C.

“His frank, unfiltered observations of the American condition and politics in our country truly strike a resonant note for the diverse members of the Cornell community,” Baumel said. “He is a true American.”

“We hope that the eyes of the world will be on Cornell University on May 27, 2017,” Baumel added.