Photo by Lawrence Jackson / Biden for President

Jill Biden introduces herself as an educator and a mother. It is often said that Joe Biden will restore the soul of the nation, but Dr. Jill Biden wants to restore its heart.

In a way, the entire second day of the Democratic National Convention was a build-up for Dr. Jill Biden’s moment in the spotlight. 

Whereas speakers on Monday emphasized Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s deep empathy and decent character, speakers on Tuesday highlighted his leadership even in the most tragic of times, like when his first wife and daughter died in December 1972.

Throughout the second night of the convention, speakers often referenced the tremendous losses Biden suffered — the death of Neilia and Naomi Biden and the later death of Beau Biden in 2015. Biden knows what it feels like to lose loved ones, like so many people across America right now, and many of the DNC’s speakers referenced that. 

However, Dr. Biden, former second lady who might become the next first lady, healed Biden’s broken heart and broken family. Her speech concluding Tuesday’s convention sent a message of warmth and hope: give her a chance, and she can do the same for this broken nation.

Introducing Dr. Biden, former high school teacher

On Tuesday night, Dr. Biden made an appeal to every parent watching the convention. She stood in an empty classroom and lamented memories of a life before the pandemic, where there were hallways once filled with the sound of laughter and anticipation. This classroom would not hear such things for the foreseeable future. This quiet is “heavy,” 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,” she continued. “That 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.”

Dr. Biden’s speech put heavy emphasis on her long-standing career as an educator. She spoke live from Brandywine High School in Wilmington, where she was an English teacher in the early 1990s. She even used her old classroom — room 232. 

Even throughout her eight years as second lady, Dr. Biden continued teaching English at a community college. She will continue to do so even as first lady, championing a profession at the heart of one of the most fraught issues in the country right now — how to reopen schools amid a pandemic.  

Last week, Dr Biden told CBS: “I want people to value teachers and know their contributions and to lift up the profession.”

To the parents watching their children go through crucial months of education through computer and phone screens, Dr. Biden made a promise. Elect Joe Biden as President, and “these classrooms will ring out with laughter and possibility once again.”

“How do you make a broken family whole?” asked Dr. Biden.

Though she spoke in the context of when she became a wife to Biden and mother to his sons, Dr. Biden’s question reverberates with the many across the country who lost family members to the coronavirus. 

Dr. Biden delivered an ode to motherhood, a role she was unexpectedly thrust into at the age of 26. She listed off family moments both mundane and extraordinary — big gatherings, silly arguments, birthdays and holidays, Sunday dinners, and nightly story time — that evoke a deep nostalgia for days past. In these moments, she said, is love.

“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,” said Dr. Biden.

The emotional apex of the night came as Dr. Biden talked about the death of Beau Biden, her elder son who died of brain cancer in 2015. The Biden’s lives changed yet again, the sorrow of another death was almost too great to bear. 

Days after the funeral, Dr. Biden watched as her husband got ready to face the world once again, his shoulders heavy from a lifetime of tragedies. His experience of grief helped him connect with his fellow Americans and voters; it is the reason why he cares so much. 

“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,” Dr. Biden said. “He does it for you. Joe’s purpose has always driven him forward.”

So how will the Bidens rebuild a broken America? By applying the same concept they did to their family: love. 

Dr. Biden’s message of unity and understanding stands in contrast with that of former first lady Michelle Obama last night, in which she took a more urgent and decisive tone to encourage viewers to vote like their “lives depend on it.” 

Though different in tone, Dr. Biden’s words are equally resounding: “We’re coming together and holding on to each other. We’re finding mercy and grace in the moments we might have once taken for granted. We’re seeing that our differences are precious and our similarities infinite. We have shown that the heart of this nation still beats with kindness and courage. That’s the soul of America Joe Biden is fighting for now.”

 

Candy Chan

Candy Chan is studying History with a focus on War and Revolution at Barnard College. She is currently a staff writer at the Columbia Daily Spectator, covering issues pertaining to Columbia's...