VOLUME 18 #1

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Winter graduates celebrate their achievements

Jill Biden, a University alumna and wife of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, also a UD graduate, spoke at Winter Commencement in January, telling the assembled group of brand-new alumni that education is priceless and transformational.

Winter Commencement celebrates graduates who have completed their degree requirements in August or December. This year, about 800 undergraduate degrees and about 450 graduate degrees were conferred.

An educator for the past 29 years, Biden, AS ’75, EP ’06EdD, was awarded her doctorate in educational leadership at the Winter Commencement ceremony in 2007. Her address to the newest members of the Class of 2009 continued a longstanding tradition of having distinguished graduates deliver the Winter Commencement address.

Jill Biden
Jill Biden, AS '75, EP'06 EdD

“I know that none of you will ever forget this day—your day,” she said. “Nor will those who supported you, your proud mothers and fathers, your husbands and wives, your sons and daughters, your grandparents and friends.

“So I feel truly fortunate to be here with all of you, and I want to wish each of the graduates my heartfelt congratulations. I know all of the hard work that you did to get here. You did it. During her undergraduate years at UD, Biden said, she remembered riding her bike all over campus, running to classes in Memorial Hall and being especially moved by Lou Arena, associate professor emeritus of linguistics and cognitive science, who she said was “one of the many professors here on campus who sparked my lifelong passion of teaching.”

Attending UD transformed her, she said, not only because it was where she met her husband, then-Sen. Joe Biden, when she was a senior.

“The University of Delaware transformed me because that is what education does,” she said. “Your best professors can inspire you. Your peers can motivate you to be better than you ever imagined. Your favorite courses can literally alter the path you take in life.”

Biden noted that such transformation could be seen in members of the Class of 2009, including Michael Popovich, who spent four years in the U.S. Coast Guard on board the first Coast Guard vessel since the Vietnam War to see combat.

“With financial support from the GI Bill and academic support from mentors at Delaware, you began taking classes at Delaware Tech, where I’m proud to say I taught for many years,” Biden said. “Today, you are graduating with a degree in agriculture and natural resources, and you are already employed, conducting cutting-edge research here at UD on the development of ‘green’ fertilizers.”

She also saluted the efforts of Barbara Burlingame, who at age 59 was the oldest graduate at the ceremony. “It was 42 years ago, in the summer of 1968, that you first stepped foot on a college campus,” she said. “But today, after four decades as a working woman supporting your family while taking night classes at colleges near your home, you are graduating this afternoon with a B.A. in English and a concentration in professional writing.”

Such stories, Biden noted, reflect the challenges that members of the Class of 2009 have faced.

“People often ask me why I continue to teach, and my answer to this is simple: It’s you,” she told the new graduates. “It’s the students who overcome obstacles, students who dare to think and dream big.”

Drawing on her own continuing experiences as a community college teacher for the past 16 years, Biden noted that she is inspired by returning students.

“Though my students may differ in age and background from many of you, their stories are ultimately the same as yours—and mine,” she said. “They are the stories of education changing lives, building confidence and opening doors.”

Also at the ceremony, UD Board of Trustees Chairman A. Gilchrist Sparks III presented Biden with an honorary degree, the highest honor bestowed by the University.

He cited her work as a loyal Blue Hen and lifelong learner, a dedicated teacher, a caring community activist, Blue Star Mom and supporter of America’s military families, and her official role as Second Lady of the United States.

Article by Jerry Rhodes, AS ’04

Photos by Evan Krape

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