BU Community Writes Joe Biden’s Inaugural Address
We asked students, faculty, and staff to take on the role of presidential speechwriter and draft the president-elect’s highly anticipated opening remarks
At noon on Wednesday, January 20, Joe Biden, a former Democratic US senator from Delaware and vice president under Barack Obama, will be sworn in as the nation’s 46th president, succeeding Donald Trump and ending what might be the most tumultuous presidency in history. And Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) will be sworn in as the nation’s first woman vice president. In keeping with tradition, Biden will deliver an inaugural address, laying out his plans and hopes. Perhaps more so than ever before, viewers will be listening for how the new president aims to reunite and heal a nation reeling from a pandemic, systemic racism, a sluggish economy, and painfully deep political divides that culminated in an attack on the US Capitol just two weeks ago that left five people dead and a disgraced Trump impeached for a second time.
We asked BU students, faculty, and staff to take on the role of speechwriter—to pen the opening remarks that they’d like the new president to deliver. We provided the first few words to get them started.
Robert Allan Hill, dean, Marsh Chapel
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, before we say another word, on this day of new beginnings, let us shout with conviction a word of hope:
A hope that our warming globe, caught in climate change, will be cooled by cooler heads and calmer hearts and careful minds.
A hope that our dangerous world, armed to the teeth with nuclear proliferation, will find peace through deft leadership toward nuclear détente.
A hope that our culture, awash in part in hooliganism, will find again the language and the song and the spirit of the better angels of our nature.
A hope that our country, fractured by massive inequality between rich children and poor children, will rise up and make education, free education, available to all children, poor and rich.
A hope that our nation, fractured by flagrant unjust inequality between rich and poor children, will stand up and make health care, free health care, available to all children, poor and rich.
A hope that our schools, colleges, and universities will balance a love of learning with a sense of meaning, a pride in knowledge with a respect for goodness, a drive for discovery with a regard for recovery.
Let us begin with a word of hope!
Harvey Young, dean, College of Fine Arts
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, we are witnessing the passing of a storm. It may have shaken our foundation. It may have rattled our core. However, it could not topple the United States of America. Today, we stand united and indivisible. But we have been tested. Our lives have been profoundly affected by a pandemic. We mourn the loss of family and friends. The echo of America’s original sin, slavery, can be heard. We proclaim Black Lives Matter as an act of redress, a reminder that our skin color should not determine our future. Not since the War Between the States have neighbors so loudly disagreed. Amidst the rancor, we remember that it is our love of country that transcends our differences. Our founders committed themselves 235 years ago “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Today, we recommit to these ideals. We strive for a more perfect union, justice for all, peace throughout our lands, security of nation, equity in the pursuit of a healthy and fulfilled life, and the promise that tomorrow will be better for our children. Storms come and go. The spirit of America will always endure.
Carrie Preston, director, Kilachand Honors College, professor of English and of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, College of Arts & Sciences
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, I ask you to join me on a journey toward HEALING. We must heal from the pandemic of COVID-19 and from the pandemic of hate, prejudice, and racism. Our nation has been challenged by disease, hatred, and insurrection and we have become more aware of our collective weaknesses and failings. Our healing will take a good deal of time as we will continue to mourn those we lost to the pandemic and to hatred and crushed opportunity. We will never be the same, and we never should be the same, although many of us long for lives that felt more innocent. But our innocence betrayed the suffering of many within our country and around the world. The coronavirus pandemic has taught us that our health and that of our loved ones is connected to the health of those around the world, including the most vulnerable: the poor, the homeless, refugees… We can no longer ignore their suffering, and I hope to lead the United States, but also our global community, toward healing. I recognize my limitations; the journey toward health is long, but I humbly ask you to join me, teach me, work alongside me.
Colbi Edmonds (COM’23), editor-in-chief, Daily Free Press
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, I come to you during a time of brokenness. How do we begin to nurse the wounds that undermine our collective humanity? In years before, we have covered the holes in our nation with fragile red tape. We attempted to hide the darkest parts of our history, out of hope that those who noticed our shortcomings would be deterred. How naive of us to assume anyone in this country would give up because they were told “no.” We are now stuck in the midst of the punishments of our consequences. We saw the results of unchecked power that led to a shameful attack on our democracy and blatant disrespect of our Constitution. We must answer for our continued disregard of marginalized groups and our inability to protect the health of one another. I stand before you humbled, yet confident that we can rebuild this nation despite our current state of disillusion. We have arrived at our roads diverged, and I fear for our country if we do not change our stride. The pain we carry from this year is heavy, but serves as an important reminder of what we must change. I plan to lead this country on an unwavering platform of equality and unity in the face of continued divide. So join Vice President Kamala Harris and me as we fight to reach this nation’s potential.
Alexander Beatty (Pardee’21), international student from Ireland
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, I stand here today, not only before you, but before the immense tasks that tower over our great nation. This day, the first of our four years together, represents a turning of the tide, a change in the air. What was once the rumblings of diversity gave way to the thunderous clap of division and disjunction. When faced with adversity, we can cower in fear or we can unite, join together, and triumph. We must reconcile, neighbor with neighbor. We must connect, as individuals, and create a lasting monument to our solidarity. It will not happen today, nor will it happen tomorrow. But this day marks the first day of this unification. Brick by brick, conversation by conversation, we will continue to champion the change we see around us, the change we feel within us, and the change we make in our lives and communities. This is not merely a moment in our history as a nation. This is the beginning of a sustained, significant movement to repair the divisions in our society. It will not be uncomplicated, it will not be convenient, there will be no room for complacency, nor passivity. This future that we envision, as we unite in the name of healing and of progress, can only be our future if we all commit to change.
Christopher B. Daly, professor of journalism, College of Communication
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, I am honored and humbled to stand before you on this hallowed ground, on the steps of our magnificent Capitol building, the people’s house, the seat of our legislative branch. From this place come the very laws which govern us, made by men and women from Maine to Hawaii and from Alaska to Florida. Recently, this house was violated by a violent mob, which should trouble all Americans. That insurrection failed, of course, but it should trouble us because it reflects our deep divisions.
As president, I commit to try to heal those divisions, which go deeper than party or region. I believe our first and biggest problem is this: we no longer share a set of facts about the real world. As citizens of a free country, we have a duty to govern ourselves. That means that we, like all who govern, need reliable information about the true state of things.
As Americans, we share the First Amendment right to a free press. We must use that freedom to learn, question, and debate. We must commit to testing our beliefs. We need not agree on what the facts mean, but we must agree that facts matter. We must agree that before we are Democrats or Republicans, we are empiricists. Without that, we cannot begin to address any of our other problems.
Richard Samuel Deese (GRS’95,’07), senior lecturer, social sciences, College of General Studies
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, what I say here today matters less than what we do. So, here’s what I’m going to do first as president, and here’s what I’ll ask you to do, today and in the years ahead.
My first act as president will be to award, posthumously, the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Capitol police officer who died defending our elected representatives and our Capitol building from a violent mob. He did not seek the limelight, but we must honor how he gave his life to defend our living democratic republic.
Today, I am asking each of you to do something simple. Talk to each other. Put down your phone, turn off your TV, and have a conversation with a fellow citizen in the real world. It may just be about the park down the street that you both like, a great teacher at your school, or a local sports team, but even the smallest conversation that builds trust is a beginning.
In the years ahead, I am asking you to join together to meet the challenge of our time: to transform our way of life in the face of the climate crisis. Like anything worth doing, this will involve hard work and sacrifice, but it will also create work: millions of jobs constructing new energy, agriculture, and transportation systems unlike anything the world has ever seen before.
Monica Wang, associate director of narrative, Center for Antiracist Research, and associate professor of community health sciences, School of Public Health
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, my first speech to you as president must be no less than the truth, because that is what you deserve. Like many of you, I am devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, and unemployment ravaging our country, yet my hope is bigger than my despair. I am uncertain of the road that lies ahead as we rebuild, yet my courage is bigger than my fear. I am weary from the seemingly unending tragedy and unrest we face daily, yet my drive is stronger than my fatigue.
Amidst all the ugliness that emerged over the past year and Administration, I also saw beauty emerge in every corner of our nation. Everyday Americans stepped up in their communities; healthcare workers, scientists, and public health experts worked tirelessly to care for the sick and develop a vaccine; citizens spoke out against racial injustices; essential workers risked their lives so that many aspects of our society can continue to function; parents rose to the challenge of working while supporting their children through remote school; and people wore masks to save the lives of loved ones and strangers they will never know. I find my inspiration and strength from these heroes who do the hard work of leading, yet are rarely recognized. Today we set standards anew to heal and rise to new heights.
Kenneth Elmore (Wheelock’87), associate provost and dean of students
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, the path forward is through solidarity. Not a new plan, perfunctory acknowledgements, or more promises.
It means we ensure that the people
in our neighborhood,
on the block,
up the road,
somewhere else in the state,
in our country
Let it be remembered that today we began to question the myths and put down the beliefs that fed our fears in order to firm up our new conviction to take care of the entire American body. And that today we created the understanding, the spirit, and the will to give a damn about each other.
Solidarity demands that you declare a love for yourself. And, that that love you declare for yourself is not a slight against, or a threat towards, anyone else.
Solidarity. It is the way for us to get our acts together, enough to deal with global health, racial justice, financial well-being, and to establish national peace.
I will work with you to own our whole selves and to take care of the whole body. To refresh the course of America to be a place where if you’re about America, you are about each other.
Andre de Quadros, professor of music, College of Fine Arts
My fellow Americans and citizens around the world, I greet you on this inauguration day with sorrow, hope, and resolve. As this season of grief spins on, stealing mothers and fathers, children and elders from our midst with each passing day, we carry the weight of unimaginable loss—over two million lives around the globe since the pandemic began. May their loss compel us to step into this new season of repair and reconciliation. On this historic day, we take our first steps in acknowledging the trauma and injustice embedded in the fabric of our nation’s founding. The events at the Capitol two weeks ago are no mere reflection of modern political division that will simply go away with the passing of time. There will be no peace in this land until we tell the truth about who we are and the harm we’ve caused in the world. We must recognize that the modern nation state was founded through the colonization and genocide of Indigenous peoples. We must acknowledge that colonization and its primary tools—slavery, white supremacy, racialized capitalism, and war—have materially benefited those in power today and continue to wreak economic and environmental devastation around the globe. The work ahead is vast, but today and every day, we commit lovingly to the collective work of justice.
Faisal Halabeya (CAS’22), student ambassador, Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, on this day, the world bears witness to the strength of American democracy. We are a nation of laws, not of people, and that fundamental truth has been affirmed here once more. I enter this office with deep gratitude and reverence for the trust placed in me by the American people.
I also enter this office in a time of crisis, when Americans are suffering on a scale not seen in nearly a century. Our children, and their children, will judge us by how we respond to the challenges we face now. As we stand here today, we are losing thousands of Americans each day to the pandemic. Our planet’s climate crisis hurtles towards yet another tipping point. Our country remains plagued by a 400-year-old scourge of racism and injustice.
The time has come for us to lower the temperature and to put our heads and hearts together for the sake of this great nation in its moment of peril. I want to acknowledge the service of Donald Trump and Mike Pence to our country. Though we have exchanged fierce and fighting words, it is now time to put politics aside and do what is right.
The eyes of the world are upon us. The task before us is colossal, but here in America, anything is possible.
Stacey Harris, associate director, Disability & Access Services, and Student Life Fellow, Dean of Students
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, I stand before you today as proud as ever to be an American. I know that may surprise you, as I stand on the land that not two weeks ago was a battlefield. At home and abroad, relationships are broken, reputations fractured, fear has taken hold. I am aware of the burden that rests upon my and Kamala’s shoulders. These issues are deep and painful, but not insurmountable. I believe in you. I believe in what America stands for. What is conflict really? Where does it come from? Assumption, misunderstanding, greed, fear.
Friends, we can overcome. I am going to challenge you, and demand of myself and my administration to work within these guiding principles: that community is a shared responsibility. The path to overcoming conflict is not to look for resolution nor winning, but to work toward understanding. Not to convince another of their wrongness, but to hear their story, learn their journey. That is what will bind us together. To do this, to heal these fractures, to build these bridges, we must first breathe. We must employ patience and radical empathy. Sit with discomfort, no matter how uncomfortable. We must ask questions in good faith, withhold judgment long enough to listen with the intent of understanding, and lead with love.
Alex Lynch (CAS’21), vice president, BU College Democrats
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, thank you for tuning in to my inauguration today. At this moment in time, America faces a multitude of crises. On one front, the coronavirus continues to kill many Americans every single day and harm even more with the economic devastation it has brought upon our nation. At the same time, we have a growing portion of our population and body politic that is increasingly hostile towards American democracy itself. In addition, we are facing a racial reckoning once again, which has demonstrated that life in America is far more unjust for some than it is for others. And there is a climate crisis that is already wreaking havoc all across America. In order to restore the public’s trust in our government and in the ideals of our nation, as your president, it is my job to address these issues head-on and to go at them without fear and without hesitation. As Franklin Roosevelt once famously stated, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and like President Roosevelt, I will use the tools at my disposal to confront the ills facing our nation today. Now, on this chilly January afternoon, I will lay out my vision for how I plan to attack the current crises hampering our great nation.
Dominique McClean (LAW’21), president, LAW Student Government Association
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, we are a nation in crisis. The coronavirus has changed the way we live our lives, and in the process, exposed our country’s greatest challenges for the world to see. Despite our name, we struggle to unite. However, I also understand that unity is a tall order when government leadership does not inspire confidence that your needs will be met. Over the course of the next four years I will work to earn that confidence. We must ensure that everyone in the country has a home to live in. No one in this country should experience the threat of losing safe housing. We must ensure physical and mental healthcare for all. No one in this country should weigh their health against their finances. We must value essential work not just with “thank you” campaigns, but with increased wages. The workers who are the backbone of our basic needs should not struggle to meet their own. Our government is “for the people,” and it is time to direct resources towards the survival needs of our people. What would this country look like if the people within could shift their thoughts away from worrying about the impending trauma of hunger, eviction, or illness? What would this country look like if all people within felt safe? Let’s begin the work that allows us to find out.
Peter Fox-Penner, director, Institute for Sustainable Energy, and professor of the practice, Questrom School of Business
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, this is the 46th time a man has stood before his country and taken the presidential oath—a chain of peaceful transfers of power that is the longest in human history. We honor the peaceful, orderly transfer of power from one president to the next because it is the touchstone—the very heart and soul—of what it means to be a democracy under law. And this 46th time, every American from every walk of life should be immensely proud that this legacy has been cherished and preserved, not by me alone, nor by any other single person on this stage, but by all of us, acting together. The tens of millions of you who exercised your right to vote, the thousands and thousands of ordinary citizens and public officials of all political parties who worked tirelessly to administer this election, our law enforcement officials who kept the peace, and everyone else in the great machinery of democracy that we have built over decades—it is you who have preserved this tradition and this truth. If there was ever a moment to be proud of the bedrock principle upon which our country was founded—that every person’s vote must count, and that the true winner of this vote becomes our leader—that time is now. And if there was ever a moment to be proud of the fact that 244 years after our founding, this principle has been honored and successfully defended by citizens of all political parties, often at great personal sacrifice, that moment is now. There can be no greater honor to the two courageous law enforcement officials who lost their lives in this very building, just weeks ago, than the ceremony we are now conducting.
Karen Jacobs (Sargent’79), clinical professor of occupational therapy, Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences
My fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, I’d like to start this address by acknowledging “the Native Peoples on whose ancestral homelands we gather, as well as the diverse and vibrant Native communities who make their home here today” [from the National Museum of the American Indian Land Acknowledgement]. I’d also like to point out the obvious—that we find ourselves today in entirely unusual times, times that are filled with many truly formidable challenges. Well, I don’t know about you, but I know we are up to these challenges. Let’s imagine it’s 2025, four years from now.
Who will we be as individuals and as families, as members of communities, and as citizens of our towns, cities, states, and country? What will we have accomplished in those four years and how did we do it? For starters, we must base our decisions on solid, proven evidence. We’ll need this foundation if we are to successfully become a unified nation of problem solvers—of individuals who talk to, but more importantly, listen to, each other. Together, we can and will begin to address and solve the scientific, economic, and social problems we face to revitalize our infrastructure, to develop new technologies in the healthcare, clean energy, manufacturing, and service sectors of our economy, and to start the process of healing our spiritual and economic wounds from a legacy of intolerance and inequity. We can do this!
Alex Schaffer (COM’22), staff writer, The Bunion
Fellow Americans and citizens around the world, resilience has brought us to this day. We have been tested in every way possible this past year, but we have also persevered. I stand before you today, not only as your president, but as a father, grandfather, and son. I also stand here as an American citizen, a lover of country and of truth. The truth to me is the unwavering idea that our people are capable of enduring any challenge placed before them. I am honored and humbled to be the elected leader of this nation—but you, the American people, are the voice. A voice which cries out with hope over fear, and with an outstretched open hand, instead of a closed fist.
In the coming days, months, and years I want to listen to voices from all cultural backgrounds and political ideologies. I want us to converse, to reveal hope, and to vocalize the truth. History shows us that in our most trying times we come out stronger, but we cannot do this alone. We must lean on each other, we must listen to each other. We must work together to form a more perfect Union.
The great Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
Truth and love prevail, as does the United States of America.
Gary Sheffer, Sandra R. Frazier Professor of Public Relations, College of Communication, and former press officer and speechwriter
My fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, I am a kid from Scranton. I am a son of Delaware. I am a citizen of the United States. I am the husband of Jill and father of Hunter, Ashley, and Beau. For the better part of my life, I have sought to serve others.
Today, I became the 45th American to take the oath of office to become president of this great republic. [Grover Cleveland’s two terms weren’t consecutive; there have been 46 presidencies, but with Biden, 45 Americans will have been president].
I am humbled and daunted by the responsibilities I am assuming. I draw comfort and confidence from the love of family and friends, and our creator, and in the wisdom of others who have taken this oath.
As he embarked on a second term, President Abraham Lincoln thanked God for the “approval of the people,” adding, “I give thanks to the Almighty for this evidence of the people’s resolution to stand by free government and the rights of humanity.”
I am grateful for the people’s confidence in me. I bear no grudge against any who opposed me. I love every American in every hamlet, every town, every city, every district, every territory, and every state. I stand before you ready to work with and for everyone in the American family.
This resolve is based on the realization that our greatest strength isn’t our rugged individualism, our independence, or even our love of liberty. It is what we can do together when we channel all of that for common purpose.
CeCe Szkutak (CAS’22), president, BU College Democrats
Fellow Americans and citizens around the world, I stand before you today truly honored to have been bestowed with your faith in the leadership of our country. As we proceed into uncharted waters, I want to remind you all of the importance of reflection. There is plenty to reflect upon from these past four years, but I have one critical takeaway: we must reflect on the founding principles of democracy and fight harder to uphold them. We cannot tolerate unwarranted claims doubting the legitimacy of our elections. We cannot tolerate inciting violence that puts our people at risk. And we cannot tolerate hateful rhetoric that divides us and propagates discrimination.
The past few weeks have been frightening. Exactly 14 days ago, our Capitol was attacked and our democracy attacked along with it. This act of domestic terrorism has been condemned by myself and numerous elected officials across party lines. January 6, 2021, will go down in history as a dark day for our democracy. It is our responsibility to do better. It is not that we can do better, it is that we must. Today, I firmly promise to make strides to unite us and give the American people the protection, freedom, and voice they deserve. It is only then that we can move forward to heal and prosper.
Dan Treacy (COM’22), media director, BU Young Americans for Freedom
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, it is the highest honor of my life to become the president of this great country today. Since the day I took office as a US senator from Delaware, I have seen this nation at its best. I have traveled from coast to coast as a senator, as a vice president, and as an American, and have seen the men and women who make this country what it is. The idea of America isn’t about any individual, not me or you, but about the hardworking single mother in Arizona who just wants a better life for her children, or the healthcare worker in Michigan who wakes up each day and stops at nothing to protect his fellow citizens. I’ve gained a lifetime of experience that has shown me who we are as a nation, and I plan to govern with that in mind. What we must know, however, is that a better America isn’t possible without the acknowledgement that our fellow citizens are our brothers and sisters, not our enemies. We must put the days of division behind us and all do our part to erase the demonization of each other. As a Democratic senator, and later as your vice president, I reached across the aisle and worked toward positive change with members of the Republican Party. We got things done. Today I’m calling on all Americans to reach out to those you may not always agree with and open your arms to them.
Case van Stolk (CAS’22), president, BU Effective Altruism
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, two weeks ago today, our democracy was assaulted from within by people so desperate to have their voice heard they were willing to hold our Constitution hostage.
By doing so they put their confidence, their hopes and aspirations, in a president they alone saw as victorious.
But the president is only a man. The presidency, however, is an institution.
More than 40 people have held this office before me, and throughout these last 244 years, the peaceful transition of power has remained steadfast. Through war, tragedy, and victory, the United States has remained steadfast. And, despite the gravity of recent events, our democracy will remain steadfast.
Our government does not rebuild the Capitol every four years. Politicians and lawmakers only pass through it. Now I will assume the office of the presidency. But this does not mean I am the office.
I am not the United States. I am not a tyrant or a king. I am the president. Someone chosen by the people for the people to preside over this country. When my job is done I will leave, but the office will remain.
I am not the United States. You are the United States. You the people are the democracy, and I am the person you have elected to lead you.
Muhammad Zaman, professor of biomedical engineering and of materials science and engineering, College of Engineering
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, today, more than any other time in our past, the world needs healing. Healing not just from the pandemic that has devastated families, destroyed our communities, and created permanent scars in our lives, but healing from the injustice that millions have suffered for hundreds of years because of the color of their skin. Healing not just for our citizens who live in big cities and small towns, but healing for those who live in far-off lands and have been forced to flee, with no food, no shelter, and nowhere to go.
We need to meet the challenges that face us all with a new contract. A contract that at its core is founded upon decency and dignity for all. A contract that aims to rebuild the trust between people and their government. It will not be easy or quick, and the challenges that face us are serious. From climate change to rising inequality, from a sense of loss among millions about their future to a college that is no longer affordable, rebuilding of trust will require not just economics, but empathy. We must draw our plans for the future not from some arbitrary notion of power, but from the strength of our resolve for compassion, justice, and humanity.
Spencer Bernard (CGS’19, COM’21), member, improv comedy troupe Liquid Fun
Fellow Americans, and citizens around the world, boy, am I happy to be speaking to you all from this podium today. I would like to say before I really get going that the pants that I am wearing were not the pants that I picked out originally. You see, the original pants had an accident. No, I know what you’re thinking—it was not that kind of accident. This morning I walked out of my room wearing the full top half of my suit and bottomless as usual, save for my trusty boxer briefs. However on this particular morning my pants were not sitting in their usual place by the door. I thought to myself at that moment, wow, another classic moment happening to Joe—I could swear my life is like a movie sometimes. This kind of stuff always seems to happen to me. But just like this great country of ours, I wasn’t going to let a little setback knock me off course. I wrapped a towel around my waist and walked out to the car determined to do my country proud, as I have been chosen by the people to lead. Anyway, to make a long story short, it turned out that Jill had just grabbed the pants to iron them quickly, and there I am walking out of the house with no pants on. I mean, can you believe that, folks? Basically, these are my backups, so I’d love it if nobody made any comments about them. Can we move on?