Jill Biden

Mesa Community College Commencement Address - May 11, 2024

Jill Biden
May 11, 2024— Tempe, Arizona
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Thank you, President Britt.

Good morning – I am honored to be with all of you today.

“You shouldn’t go to college.”

That’s what my high school guidance counselor told me. I was crushed. His assessment was that I wasn’t college material. He said, “if you don’t really know what you want to do next, college just isn’t right for you. You shouldn’t waste your time.”

My whole life, I’d wanted to go to college. And now the person who was supposed to guide me there was saying that I couldn’t do it.

Well, I got my college degree. In fact, I got three more degrees. I got two masters and a doctorate while raising three children and going to school at night and working full time. [applause] It took me 15 years.

And at 55, I walked across that graduation stage to receive my doctorate. I really wanted to call that damn guidance counselor to tell him I got my doctorate! [applause]

Today, I stand here as Dr. Jill Biden, and I join your family and friends in congratulating you, Class of 2024. [cheers and applause]

People like to tell us what they think we can’t do, don’t they? They say it’s going to be too hard or too complicated. That no one like you has done this before.

How many of you have been told, “you can’t”? You can’t get your degree while raising your kids. You can’t go back to school at age 30 or 45 or even 50. You’re working two jobs – you can’t possibly go to school, too.

And how many times have you done it anyway?

Nearly half of you are the first in your families to attend college. Many of you came back to school after time away.

But sure, “You can’t do it.”

You worked while taking courses at night. Brought your kids to school because your child care fell through – praying they’d behave. You typed at the kitchen table to get your paper just right, long after everyone had gone to sleep, because that’s the only time that there was quiet. Even when it was 7am, and you’d just had finished the night shift, and you hadn’t eaten, you went to class.

That’s who you are: Strong. Courageous. Full of hope.

You found a community here – in clubs and study groups, and in the faculty, administrators, and staff, who lent you the strength to persevere – who believed in you. And you made their belief real one paper, one project, one credit at a time.

To my colleagues and my fellow educators, thank you.

Whether two years ago or 10 years ago, graduates, you took a leap. You stepped onto MCC’s campus – and look at what you’ve accomplished.

Thank you for the invitation to join you today to celebrate that achievement. Being—yes, clap for you. [applause] Being your First Lady is the honor of my lifetime.

And, on behalf of President Biden, Vice President Harris, and the Second Gentleman: Congratulations, Class of 2024! We are so proud of you.

I teach at a community college for the same reason students go to community colleges. They’re flexible and they meet people where they are. And, as my husband, President Biden, says, they provide the “best career training in America.”

When I visited the Intel Campus in Chandler two years ago, I heard about how MCC was preparing students for the jobs of the future.

Mayor Giles and the community leaders here know that. That’s why they started the Mesa College Promise Program. [applause]

Community colleges in America should be free in America. [cheers and applause]

President Britt, and all the MCC and Maricopa County Community College District leaders here, thank you for all you do for your students.

I’m so grateful to all the elected leaders joining us and taking the time to celebrate this day with you.

Graduates, all of you have inspired so many with your strength – including the people here today cheering you on. The parents and spouses and friends who have believed in you from the beginning. And your kids – who will grow up knowing that you can do anything – because they watched you do this.

They’re feeling excitement and relief. But most of all, pride. Chest-swelling, cheek-aching pride.

To all those here to support these graduates, this is your day, too. Through all those late nights and hard days, you’ve been there – helping them find a way to the other side – to today. Congratulations on loving an incredible person.

Yes, people like to tell us what they think we can’t do.

Sometimes the voices that say “can’t” are coming from the people around us – a guidance counselor or even a friend who means well – and sometimes they’re coming from inside ourselves. Drown out those voices. And remember what you’ve already done.

You’ve met life’s challenges before. And you know on the other side of “can’t” lies the beauty and joy and surprise of life – the adventure that changes us for the better.

And you are ready for it.

Never underestimate the magnitude of that accomplishment. Never forget your strength and your resilience. Never be afraid to face the unknown.

Expect anything and everything. Take risks that scare you. Don’t hesitate when you see the chance for joy. Share your stories, too. Be kinder. Love harder. Dream bigger. Find your adventure and keep your courage and say “yes.”

Class of 2024, you are brave and fierce: You made it.

Let the world feel your thunder!

And the next time that someone tells you that you “can’t,” you’re going to say, “Oh yeah? Watch me.”

Thank you. Congratulations!

Mesa Community College. “MesaCC 2024 Commencement Graduation.” YouTube video, 2:22:45. May 11, 2024. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zw6xE8p8mb0

The White House. 2024. “Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by First Lady Jill Biden at The Mesa Community College Commencement.” https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2024/05/11/remarks-as-prepared-for-delivery-by-first-lady-jill-biden-at-the-mesa-community-college-commencement.