Despite her 40 years as a political spouse, Jill Biden said politics has served as just “one part of the equation” for her lifelong career as an educator.
“(My husband, former Vice President Joe Biden) had a job to do, and so did I. Actually, I had a few,” Biden said.
The former second lady spoke to a crowd of about 1,000 students, faculty and community members Tuesday night at Penn State’s Eisenhower Auditorium. Biden was part of the lineup in the Distinguished Speaker Series hosted by the university’s Student Programming Association.
Throughout her speech, Biden spoke of her passion for teaching and how she continued her vocation as she assumed the role of second lady. She stressed the importance of reaching out to resources, referring to her own struggle to balance full-time teaching while raising three children and pursuing a second master’s degree during her early years of marriage.
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“As I began teaching at a community college, I saw just how vital those resources were to my students as well.” Biden said. “Often, it takes just a little help to make such a big difference.”
While she was honored to become second lady, Biden said she couldn’t bring herself to give up teaching after everything she had worked so hard for.
“Building that community, sharing our collective wisdom and creating opportunities — that’s at the heart of teaching, and it’s why I absolutely love what I do,” she said.
Biden, who is a full-time English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, said she specifically wanted to assist women who found the courage to return to school.
Not long into her career at the community college, she started the Women’s Mentoring Project, a support network that gives women over 30 a chance to encourage each other through challenges they may face in their daily lives.
“A lot of us need just a little help; I did,” Biden said. “And that’s especially true for women who are so often left behind: women of color, those with disabilities, the LGBT community, people in rural communities and those struggling to make ends meet.”
After Biden’s speech, Jennifer Pencek, a programming coordinator for Penn State’s Gender Equity Center, joined Biden onstage with a list of preselected questions. Biden was asked how she overcame the challenges in her line of work, especially in raising awareness about areas of particular importance to women.
“I think if you find your passion, what inspires you, what you want to get up for every day, that makes you want to continue to go on and work harder,” Biden said. “My students are the ones that keep me going.”
She also said that recognizing one’s own strengths and passions is vital to harnessing leadership qualities and truly making a difference in the world.
“You can’t just live in your own little circle; it’s up to you to reach out,” Biden said.
Hyun Soo Lee is a Penn State journalism student.