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Photo: Arabella Uhry

Few students left Irvine Auditorium with dry eyes on Nov. 16 after listening to former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden talk about his new book, “Promise Me, Dad.”

The memoir takes an in-depth look into the loss and grief that Biden has experienced in his life, focusing particularly on the recent death of his son, 1991 College graduate Beau Biden.

Months after Beau died of brain cancer in 2015, Biden formally launched the “Cancer Moonshot Program,” a research initiative that is supported by Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center. 

The event, which was organized by the Office of the President, the Penn Biden Center, and the Annenberg School for Communication, featured an interview with Biden conducted by Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication Michael X. Delli Carpini. 

During the interview, Biden talked at length about his son Beau, describing him as an “honorable” man. 

“He still went to work every single day as attorney general until the day he died,” Biden said. “He told me to smile if anyone asked about him. ‘Smile, dad, smile. I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me,’ he’d say.”

Photo: Arabella Uhry

Biden also talked about how the death of his wife and daughter in a car accident in 1972 brought him and his two sons closer together. When Carpini asked about his ability to channel loss into strength, Biden said, “There is so much to live for, especially to do things that give meaning to the lives of those you lost.” 

Students said they were surprised with how emotionally honest Biden was during the event. 

“What surprised me about the conversation with Biden was how raw and emotional it was," College freshman Lucie Pham said. "I was expecting more discussion about the current political climate of our country, but I was pleasantly surprised when [former] Vice President Biden let us into his personal life. It allowed us all to see him in a different light.” 

During the dialogue, Biden spoke directly about this strong connection between his personal life and political life. 

“There’s never been a conflict between the two for me,” he said. “All politics is personal, it’s about understanding the other guy. The same values I brought to raising my family and later them raising me are the same values I bring to my public life.”

The former Vice President also discussed his close relationship with former President Barack Obama, whom he described as “[his] younger brother.” He said their relationship started with respect and transitioned into friendship because of their abilities to be honest and hold each other accountable.

During a question-and-answer session nearing the end of the event, 2018 Class Board President and College senior Makayla Reynolds addressed the former Vice President as “Professor Biden,” drawing laughs and cheers from the audience. 

Biden spent the majority of the Q&A session providing advice on public service and college life. His personal advice on public service struck a chord with several students in the audience. 

“As a person who wants to enter politics, it was incredibly inspiring to hear about how he thought that working in politics was one of the most honorable things a person could do,” College freshman Rachel Steinig said. “He definitely inspired me to want to serve my country and make a positive difference in the world.”

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