“This quiet is heavy.”
So said Jill Biden during the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night, standing in front of the empty Delaware high school classroom where she once taught English, and which has remained unused since March due to the threat of Covid-19.
It was a powerful line in a moving speech in which Biden mourned the devastating loss of life and livelihood amid the Covid-19 crisis while also offering hope for the future.
The remote convention format had given many speakers that evening the opportunity to speak to Americans from meaningful locations in their home states, like the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, or the mountains of the Pueblo of Sandia in New Mexico. And the former second lady chose a setting that was laden with emotion not just for her, but for the millions of students, teachers, and parents whose lives have been thrown into fear and uncertainty as the pandemic shutters school buildings — and as the virus appears to spread dangerously in those that have reopened. Biden, an educator for decades who now teaches community college, opened her speech by acknowledging those struggles.
“The rooms are dark as the bright young faces that should fill them are now confined to boxes on a computer screen,” she said. “I hear it from so many of you — the frustration of parents juggling work while they support their children’s learning ... afraid that their kids might get sick from school. The concern of every person working without enough protection.”
And she broadened her message to acknowledge the pain that the entire nation is feeling during the pandemic — and to promise that Joe Biden, whose own life has been marked by grief as he lost his first wife, infant daughter, and son, would have the strength as president to heal that pain.
“How do you make a broken family whole?” she asked. “The same way you make a nation whole: with love and understanding and with small acts of kindness.”
“I know that if we entrust this nation to Joe, he will do for your family what he did for ours,” she finished: “Bring us together and make us whole.”
Dr. Jill Biden's keynote speech during Tuesday's #DemConvention wove her family’s story into America’s story.— Vox (@voxdotcom) August 19, 2020
“Love makes us flexible and resilient,” she said as she closed out the night. https://t.co/IXGCDyfKQE pic.twitter.com/WDYRLNvdFC
Read a rush transcript of Jill Biden’s speech below.
I have always loved the sounds of a classroom. The quiet that sparks with possibility just before students shuffle in, the murmur of ideas bouncing back and forth as we explore the world together, the laughter and tiny moments of surprise you find in materials you’ve taught a million times.
When I taught English here at Brandywine High School I would spend my summer preparing for the school year about to start, filled with anticipation. But this quiet is heavy. You can hear the anxiety that echoes down empty hallways. There’s no scent of new notebooks or freshly waxed floors. The rooms are dark as the bright young faces that should fill them are now confined to boxes on a computer screen. I hear it from so many of you — the frustration of parents juggling work while they support their children’s learning are afraid that their kids might get sick from school. The concern of every person working without enough protection.
The despair in the lines that stretch out before food banks. And the indescribable sorrow that follows every lonely last breath when the ventilators turn off. As a mother and a grandmother, as an American, I am heartbroken by the magnitude of this loss, by the failure to protect our communities, by every precious and irreplaceable life gone. Like so many of you I am left asking, how do I keep my family safe? You know, motherhood came to me in a way I never expected. I fell in love with a man and two little boys standing in the wreckage of unthinkable loss, mourning a wife and mother, a daughter and sister.
I never imagined at the age of 26 I would be asking myself, how do you make a broken family whole? Still, Joe always told the boys, mommy sent Jill to us. And how could I argue with her? And so we figured it out together, in those big moments that would go by too fast — Thanksgivings and state championships, birthdays and weddings — in the mundane ones we didn’t even know for shaping our lives — reading stories piled on the couch, rowdy Sunday dinners and arguments. Listening to the faint sounds of laughter that would float downstairs as Joe put the kids to bed every night while I studied for grad school or graded papers under the pale yellow kitchen lamp, the dinner dishes waiting in the sink.
We found that love holds a family together. Love makes us flexible and resilient. It allows us to become more than ourselves, together, and though it can’t protect us from the sorrows of life, it gives us refuge, a home. How do you make a broken family whole? The same way you make a nation whole: with love and understanding and with small acts of kindness. With bravery, with unwavering faith. We show up for each other in big ways and small ones again and again.
It’s what so many of you are doing right now for your loved ones, for complete strangers, for your communities. There are those who want to tell us that our country is hopelessly divided, that our differences are irreconcilable. But that’s not what I’ve seen. We’re holding onto each other and coming together. We’re finding mercy and … differences are precious and our similarities this nation still beats with kindness and courage. That’s the soul of America Joe Biden is fighting for now.
After our son Beau died of cancer, I wondered if I would ever smile or feel joy again. It was summer, but there was no warmth left for me. Four days after Beau’s funeral, I watched Joe shave and put on his suit. I saw him steel himself in the mirror, take a breath, put his shoulders back, and walk out into a world empty of our son. He went back to work. That’s just who he is.
There are times when I couldn’t even imagine how he did it. How he put one foot in front of the other and kept going. But I’ve always understood why he did it — for the daughter who convinces her mom to finally get a breast cancer screening and misses work to drive her to the clinic, for the community college student who has faced homelessness and survived abuse but finds the grit to finish her degree and make a good life for her kids. For the little boy whose mom is serving as a Marine in Iraq, who puts on a brave face in his video call and doesn’t complain when the only thing he wants for his birthday is to be with her. For all those people Joe gives his personal phone number to at rope lines and events. The ones he talks to for hours after dinner, helping them smile through their loss, letting them know that they aren’t alone. He does it for you.
Joe’s purpose has always driven him forward. His strength of will is unstoppable, and his faith is unshakable. Because it’s not in politicians or political parties or even in himself — it’s in the providence of God. His faith is in you, in us. Yes, so many classrooms are quiet right now. The playgrounds are still. But if you listen closely, you can hear the sparks of change in the air. Across the country, educators, parents, first responders, Americans of all walks of life are putting their shoulders back, fighting for each other. We haven’t given up.
We just need leadership worthy of our nation. Worthy of you. Honest leadership to bring us back to together, to recover from this pandemic and prepare for whatever else is next. Leadership to reimagine what our nation will be. That’s Joe. He and Kamala will work as hard as you do every day to make this nation better. And if I have the honor of serving as your first lady, I will, too. And with Joe as president, these classrooms will ring out with laughter and possibility once again.
The burdens we carry are heavy, and we need someone with strong shoulders. I know that if we entrust this nation to Joe, he will do for your family what he did for ours. Bring us together and make us whole, carry us forward in our time of need, keep the promise of America for all of us.
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