Vice President Joe Biden couldn’t have picked a better spot Monday to make an election-year pitch: The new Marlins Park baseball stadium, site of Cypress Bay High School’s 2012 graduation ceremony.
"As a kid, this was my dream, standing at home plate at a major league ballpark. Not as a speaker, but as a batter,” he told the graduating class of 2012. “But I had to settle on being vice president.”
Biden hailed Cypress Bay, one of the newest, biggest and best high schools in Florida. He sounded optimistic notes about the brightness of the future and the need for tolerance in a global village wired ever tighter by technological advancement.
“You are going to lead those changes as you leave this school, so don’t sell yourself short,” Biden said. “Don’t think small. Don’t give into cynicism, don’t give into the negativity that pervades our public discourse. And imagine."
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Though the speech wasn’t overtly political, Biden’s presence underscores the importance of Florida and, particularly, Democrat-heavy South Florida.
Last month, Biden stumped in the Everglades with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who’s also up for re-election. The month before, Biden traveled to a Coconut Creek retirement community to warn seniors about Republican plans to overhaul Medicare and Social Security.
Along with seniors and environmentalists, the youth vote is key for the Obama-Biden ticket, which has been struggling in the down economy and may have lost some of its luster in the eyes of young voters.
Judging by the applause, the students were pleased with Biden. But they were wild about their principal, Charles Scott Neely. Biden jokingly called him “the Big Kahuna.”
Neely, in an earlier interview, said the school was “just thrilled” that Biden could make it. For the past four years, Neely said, Cypress Bay has petitioned the White House for a graduation speaker. And this year, it happened.
Graduates like Brandon Willis, who’s FIU-bound to study business and management, said Biden’s speech was “touching.”
"It was different, just inspiring on how somebody as big as him could be humble enough, and come down and talk to everybody else." he said.
Biden’s over-arching theme: Be tolerant. Accept differences.
“If you can take that attitude with you — the attitude where you don’t simply tolerate differences of background and opinion, you accept it, you even solicit the differences — if you can take that with you, it will be one of the keys for your success in life,” he said. “Because there is nothing, nothing your world is going to need more than being able to accept, support, and work with people with very different views.
Biden recalled the dramatic changes in his own life.
“Forty years from the time Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, I was standing on a railroad platform in Wilmington, Delaware. It was January 17, 2009,” he said “I was being picked up by a friend — an African-American friend: Barack Obama.”
The crowd cheered. A few booed.
“This is not a political comment, it’s about transition in America," Biden said. “There’s a lot of talk these days that America’s future isn’t as bright as its past, but I’m here to tell you, don’t believe that, not for a single moment."