Vice President Joe Biden gestures after donning a pair of sunglasses as he delivers the Class Day Address at Yale University on May 17, 2015, in New Haven, Conn.
Photo by Jessica Hill/AP

8 gems from Joe Biden’s speech at Yale University

Updated

Vice President Joe Biden, sporting his famed aviator sunglasses, addressed Yale University’s class of 2015 Sunday in New Haven, Connecticut. Below are eight words of wisdom Biden imparted to the graduating class and their families. 

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1. Be compassionate. “It’s not that all that difficult, folks, to be compassionate when you’ve been the beneficiary of compassion in your lowest moments not only from your family, but from your friends and total strangers. Because when you know how much it meant to you, you know how much it mattered. It’s not hard to be compassionate.”

2. Find the sweet spot between success and happiness. “I’ve been lucky. And my wish for all of you is that not only tomorrow, but 20 and 40 and 50 years from now, you’ve found that sweet spot, that thing that allows you to get up in the morning, put both feet on the floor, go out and pursue what you love, and think it still matters. But all of you have one thing in common you will all seek to find that sweet spot that satisfies your ambition and success and happiness.”

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3. Don’t question anyone’s motives. “I said, that guy, [Jesse] Helms, he has no social redeeming value.  He doesn’t care  I really mean it  I was angry. He doesn’t care about people in need. He has a disregard for the disabled. Majority Leader Mansfield then proceeded to tell me that three years earlier, Jesse and Dot Helms, sitting in their living room in early December before Christmas, reading an ad in the Raleigh Observer, the picture of a young man, 14-years-old with braces on his legs up to both hips, saying, all I want is someone to love me and adopt me. He looked at me and he said, and they adopted him, Joe. 

“I felt like a fool. He then went on to say, Joe, it’s always appropriate to question another man’s judgment, but never appropriate to question his motives because you simply don’t know his motives …   From that moment on, I tried to look past the caricatures of my colleagues and try to see the whole person. Never once have I questioned another man’s or woman’s motive.”

4. Make “real” relationships. “Resist the temptation of your generation to let “network” become a verb that saps the personal away, that blinds you to the person right in front of you, blinds you to their hopes, their fears, and their burdens. Build real relationships — even with people with whom you vehemently disagree. You’ll not only be happier. You will be more successful.”

5. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. “The second thing I’ve noticed is that although you know no one is better than you, every other persons is equal to you and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect … Regardless of their academic or social backgrounds, those who had the most success and who were most respected and therefore able to get the most done were the ones who never confused academic credentials and societal sophistication with gravitas and judgment.”

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6. Ambition without perspective can be a killer. “Ambition is really important. You need it. And I certainly have never lacked in having ambition. But ambition without perspective can be a killer. I know a lot of you already understand this … And some of your families made enormous sacrifices for this great privilege. And many of you faced your own crises, some unimaginable … Find the balance between ambition and happiness, what will make you really feel fulfilled. 

7. Trust your gut. “Take this job, make that much money, live in this place, hang out with people like you, take no real risks and have no real impact, while getting paid for the false sense of both. But resist that temptation to rationalize what others view is the right choice for you  instead of what you feel in your gut is the right choice — that’s your North Star. Trust it.  Follow it.”

8. Engage the world around you. “You can’t breathe fresh air or protect your children from a changing climate no matter what you make. If your sister is the victim of domestic violence, you are violated. If your brother can’t marry the man he loves, you are lessened. And if your best friend has to worry about being racially profiled, you live in a circumstance not worthy of us. It matters. So be successful. I sincerely hope some of you become millionaires and billionaires. I mean that. But engage the world around you because you will be more successful and happier.”

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8 gems from Joe Biden's speech at Yale University

Updated