Exploring his experiences of serving as vice president and coping with the death of his son, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the Michigan Theater Monday night. As part of his American Promise Tour, the event consisted of a conversation between Biden and ESPN reporter Adam Schefter, a University of Michigan alum.
The tour is centered on his new book, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose” released in November 2017. Among other things, Biden reflected on his faith, his family and his career in public service. He did not, despite rumblings from political experts, comment on his alleged candidacy in the 2020 presidential election in the book.
Biden spent most of his time at the event discussing those same topics. He spoke at length about his experiences following the death of his first wife and daughter in a car crash in 1972 (which Beau and Hunter, Biden’s second son, survived). He and his young sons grew closer as they coped with the loss.
“As much as I raised them, they raised me,” Biden said.
As they grew older, Biden’s sons became interested in public service, and Beau was poised to become governor of Delaware when he was diagnosed with brain cancer. At the event, Biden talked about how much he looks up to Beau and his other children for their courage and their commitment to public service.
“I've never met a man who I admired more than my son, Beau. He was truly remarkable and I wanted people to know about him," Biden said. "I hope the book gives people some hope who've been through worse things than I went through.”
He also focused on his work with the Biden Cancer Initiative, which seeks to raise funds for research and facilitate progress in the fight against cancer. Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, have spent a large portion of their time over the last year working on this project.
Biden brushed aside questions of whether he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, just as he has at a number of public appearances in the last year. Though Schefter attempted to work the election into the conversation, Biden chose to focus on his family and personal experiences and gave no commentary or thoughts on the current American political world for the duration of the conversation.
LSA freshman Maeve Skelly said she has long been inspired by Biden. She attended the event and spoke positively about his personal qualities.
“I’ve always looked up to Joe Biden as not only a political figure, but as someone I admire personally,” Skelly said. “I admire his resilience and his courage because it takes a lot to come and talk about the stuff that he did — especially writing about it in his book and all the hardships he’s been through — and using that as hope.
Engineering junior Kayura Mendonza, also in the audience, found Biden to be a role model in her life.
“It was amazing to hear him talk about how he has gotten through many hardships in his life and still managed to be such positive force. He is an inspiration and one of my personal idols,” she said.
Hope was a key theme of Biden’s book and the event. Before Beau died, he urged his father and the rest of his family to continue working for the things they cared about; he hoped that they wouldn’t “turn inward” after his death. Biden said he was motivated in his work by Beau’s passionate public service, and that he kept working after Beau’s death because he knew Beau would have wanted him to.
Biden ended the event on a positive note, speaking about the accomplishments of the Biden Cancer Initiative. He offered some hopeful parting words.
“Folks, in the next five to 10 years you’re going see a radical change in life expectancy with cancer. You’re going to see some genuine cures,” Biden said. “That’s the kind of stuff that’s happening. That’s why I’m so optimistic not just about cancer, but quite frankly the country.”