NEWARK, Del. — On a Sunday afternoon in June 1965, research scientist Caryl Haskins addressed 1,038 University of Delaware graduates sitting in folding chairs on the campus mall.
Among the graduates was Joseph R. Biden Jr., a history and political science major.
Haskins encouraged the graduates to explore the new careers proffered by the scientific revolution while warning of the potential pitfalls of a world too far adrift from spiritual values and "humanistic endeavor."
Fifty-seven years later Biden returned to Newark in Haskins' place, addressing graduates from his alma mater for the first time as the 46th President of the United States.
His message Saturday was one often recited at graduation ceremonies, but delivered with the force of the White House seal. The class of 2022 is entering the world at a pivotal moment and have the power to decide "who we are" as a nation.
"The challenges are immense, foreign and domestic, but so are the possibilities," Biden said.
Biden took the stage at Delaware Stadium south of the university's main campus to loud applause sporting his signature aviator sunglasses under sunny skies. The morning's presenters filled their remarks with references to Biden's career accomplishments – with many noting that any of the 6,411 graduates could be the second University of Delaware alum to become president.
In the course of his 28-minute speech, Biden told the story of a small-town Delaware kid who barely made it through school and was never pegged as the nation's next leader. His Claymont family struggled to meet the $300 tuition for him and his sister, Valerie, he said.
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Of his sister, who now chairs the public policy institute at the University of Delaware that bears their family name, Biden said, "she graduated with honors, I graduated."
Biden, who once spent his days rehearsing lines about the Phillies to use on his paper route to work through a stutter, said his time in college gave him the confidence to seek public office and begin making changes during the civil rights era.
Today, Biden said, America faces many similar challenges as "forces of evil" impede progress on many fronts.
Biden made reference to the recent shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas where 21 people died, including 19 children, and at The Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, New York where 10 people were killed.
"In the face of such destructive forces, we have to stand stronger," Biden said. "We cannot outlaw tragedy, I know, but we can make America safer."
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Biden recalled how after his son, Beau, died from brain cancer in 2015, he had no interest in running for president in 2016. He said the following year, when white supremacists marched through Charlottesville, Virginia with torches, uttering Nazi phrases from decades earlier, he decided he needed to do something.
"This is no time to be on the sidelines," he said Saturday.
Biden had been the University of Delaware's commencement speaker four times previously. Saturday, he became the first sitting president to give the address. In 1918, William Howard Taft spoke at the ceremony for Delaware College five years after the end of his presidency.
"No generation gets to choose what world they graduate into," Biden said in his closing remarks. "None. But a few generations enter at a point in history where they have the power to change the trajectory of a nation."
"And you can. When I sat where you are in the mid-60s, I believed we could."
Follow Brandon Holveck on Twitter @holveck_brandon.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Joe Biden's commencement speech at University of Delaware graduation