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Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden at the Tallwood High School Graduation Ceremony

Tallwood High School
Virginia Beach, Virginia

1:44 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Thank you all very much.  It’s an honor to be here.

Madam President, thank you for that introduction.  And, parents, grandparents, family members, administrators, faculty, and as I said, the school board -- the most important thankless job in America -- thank you for doing it.  To all of you assembled here to celebrate today with the graduating class of 2012, I’m flattered you’d invite me to be here.

It’s great to be in a town that has such respect for our military and such great tradition, and such a wonderful group of graduates.  I want you to raise your hand, you graduates, if any of you have family members serving in the United States military.  (Applause.)

I want to ask the rest of the audience, sitting in the bleachers, how many of you have served in the military and served overseas?  Please stand.  (Applause.)  We owe you.  We owe you big.

Graduates, since 9/11, over 2,800,000 of your parents and older brothers and sisters and people like them have joined the United States military.  More than half of them -- more than half of them have been in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq, many of them multiple times.  Your parents and siblings put their lives on the line for this country.  And they were asked to do so much more than just fight.  You’re inheriting an incredible tradition, because they were asked to take on responsibilities beyond their base or battlefield.  Young men and women that I have witnessed more than two dozen times, steeped in military doctrine, have had to master the intricacies of tribal politics, deal with issues ranging from lack of electricity to unemployment, to currency exchange to taxation.  It’s a remarkable, remarkable group of military men and women we have today -- the finest generation of warriors in the history of not only the United States, but the history of the world.  So thank you all who have served.   (Applause.)

And thank all of you who served as well when they were abroad -- the families.  There’s a great phrase from a famous British poet.  He said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  They also serve who only stand and wait.  My son, Beau Biden, spent a year in Iraq, and I watched the impact on my grandchildren -- the games missed, the birthdays missed, the Christmases missed, the empty seat at Thanksgiving dinner.  So from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of a grateful nation, I thank all of you who are the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, spouses of those who have put themselves in harm’s way in the last decade and beyond.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  (Applause.)

And I’m told -- I’m told that 37 of you graduating today will leave here today and enlist in the United States military.  Thank you as well.  (Applause.)  Thank you for the service you’re going to render. 

And I want you all to know that your nation stands with you, and will stand with you every step of the way in your career.

And I want to, Madam Principal, commend this school for teaching so many of these students a larger lesson than just mastering their studies.  Because one of the things you all have learned here is that in order for this nation to lead the world and you to be leaders in the world, you have to understand the world.  You have to participate in the world.  So I was so impressed by 76 members of this graduating class who took part in the Global Studies and World Languages Academy, most of you learning to speak two or more languages -- two languages.  I was told one student -- nine.  You’ve had a chance to put those language skills to the test by video-conferencing with others halfway around the world.  And I guarantee you most of you will have a chance to put it to the test on the foreign soil of the language you’ve mastered.  We will need you -- need you -- there.

You studied global governments and global culture.  You studied people and their backgrounds, their heritages; learned to respect different viewpoints, and most of all, you’ve gained perspective, whether it’s in the service of your family or in participating in a program.  And that matters.

No one can tell you how small the world has become better than those who raised their hands a few moments ago who served abroad.  As this world of ours continues to shrink, what happens in a remote province in Pakistan, Nigeria, Brazil is known around the world in a matter of minutes.  The democratic movement that swept across the Middle East -- the so-called Arab Spring -- began when a lowly fruit vendor set himself ablaze to protest a corrupt government, igniting a confrontation magnified by social media that literally set off a revolution that was waiting to happen for well over 200 years.

Graduates, today, the notion of isolation is obsolete, even in those places where it is still desired.  But here’s the thing:  As the world continues to shrink, the cultural divides that have separated us do not shrink.  The lines marking cultural and religious differences do not blur.  In fact, those lines become more stark as we confront those differences up close.  After all, the same technology that can inspire a democratic revolution across the Middle East, well, it can spread gossip, innuendo and lies around the world just as rapidly.

To state the obvious, technology, no matter how far or how fast it evolves, is only a tool.  And your generation’s greatest challenge, in my view, will be learning how to deploy that tool -- this emerging technology -- wisely.  Deploying it wisely means infusing technology with our oldest values -- values that you have learned here.  The values of tolerance, respect, understanding:  These are not some obsolete, old notions that don’t matter anymore.  The more advanced and shrunk the world becomes, the more critical those values become.  They mean more than ever.

There’s a lot of talk these days -- you hear it in a cacophony of voices -- that America’s future is not as bright as its past.  Well, I’m here to tell you, don’t believe it for a moment.  Class of 2012, you’re going to live through a period of the most remarkable and rapid technological, scientific and medical breakthroughs in the history of mankind.  And we -- you -- are going to lead those changes from the United States of America.

So don’t give in to the cynicism, the pettiness, the negativity that you see and hear all around you, that pervades our public discourse.  Believe in yourself, because you have reason to.  And believe, because there’s no reason not to believe in the continued promise of this great country.  Think big and imagine.  That’s my simple advice to you today:  Think big and imagine.

Imagine the progress you will see and achieve in your lifetime.  Imagine those breakthroughs that are just on the horizon and just beyond it.  Imagine the day, and it will occur within your lifetime -- it will occur in all probability before you have children -- when doctors can engineer your white blood cells to attack cancer tumors and leave healthy cells untouched, allowing cancer patients to live a full life without undergoing the difficult, painful and costly chemotherapy and radiation procedure.

Imagine the day when doctors will be able -- and they will in your lifetime -- be able to regenerate organs and limbs that have been damaged or lost, not only saving tens of thousands of lives, but giving back our wounded warriors control, full control, of their lives again.

Imagine the day when you fly and we have an aircraft that flies at Mach 20 and able to literally travel anywhere in the world within one to two hours.  That will happen in your near lifetime.

Imagine the day when we can detect an IED from 100 meters or more away, or when our soldiers can wear a lightweight vest even stronger than Kevlar that can literally stop armor-piercing bullets. 

Imagine being able to power your home at a fraction of the cost of what your parents now pay, because your home will be powered by solar shingles that cost no more than the shingles on your parents’ home today.

Hunger vanquished because crops will not need to depend on the quality of the soil; the same amount of water, fertilizer, and pesticides to thrive.  Famine a memory, and with it so much war and conflict.  Medicine personalized to your human genome, which is literally around the corner.  New super lightweight building materials; cleaner fuels, electric vehicles able to go at equivalent of 100 miles or more to a gallon, and free us from our dependence on foreign oil and all the obligations that flow from that.  Imagine that and so much more that I promise you, I promise you, is within your reach.

In this new world, so much is going to be possible.  The United States is, at this moment, as the former Secretary of State said, and I quote, the “indispensable nation,” not because we’re perfect -- because we aren’t -- but because we’re tolerant, because we reach out to others, because we understand we can’t waste anyone’s talents.  And that makes you the indispensable generation.  You will be in the forefront as we rebuild this nation’s economy and restore the middle class, as we leave behind two wars. 

You will be in the forefront of shaping whether the age in front of us is an age of deepening conflict or increasing tolerance.  And that will be determined in large part by you continuing to develop what you’ve already begun to learn -- the ability to discern between what is noble and what is ignoble; between what is pure arrogance and what is done genuinely to help the lives of human beings; your ability and willingness to recognize that people pursue truth in different ways; and maybe most of all, you will need that innate skepticism about those who claim they are the sole arbiters of what is true and what is right. 

As you hone these skills, you will not only determine the future of our country; you will define its very heart and soul.  It’s like the slogan of your class says:  You guys are “ahead of the curve.”  You all have what it takes.  I am absolutely confident in your ability to meet the challenges I have laid out head on, and to bend them -- to bend them -- to your will in your and our moral precepts.  I’m confident of that because of where you come from, how you were raised, what you learned at this fine school, but most of all because who you are. 

Meeting challenges head on has been the story of the history of the journey of America.  And more is being placed on you, in terms of opportunity and obligation, than any generation before you.  America is literally counting on you, and we believe deeply in you. 

So congratulations, Tallwood High School Class of 2012.  May God bless you, and may God protect our troops.  Thank you.  (Applause.) 

2:01 P.M. EDT