Speaking from the Wilmington, Delaware, high school classroom where she taught English years ago, Jill Biden described "the anxiety that echoes down empty hallways" and the uncertainty that's come as schools grapple with whether to resume in-person teaching as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.
"The burdens we carry are heavy, and we need someone with strong shoulders," she said. "If we entrust this nation to Joe, he will do for your family what he did for ours: Bring us together and make us whole, carry us forward in our time of need, keep the promise of America, for all of us."
Biden's remarks capped off the second night of the convention. In her speech, she drew parallels with her husband's experience leading his family through personal adversity and what she described as his ability to lead the nation through its current crises.
VIDEOS: Watch Bill Clinton, AOC, more deliver remarks for Day 2 of the DNC
During their decades in public life, both Jill and Joe Biden have faced considerable personal loss. Shortly after his election as senator, in 1972, Joe Biden's first wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash, leaving him to raise his two sons alone. He married Jill about four years later, but the two faced tragedy together when Biden's son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015.
Both speak openly on the campaign trail about the challenges they've experienced, and on Tuesday night, Jill Biden spoke about what it takes to "make a broken family whole": "The same way you make a nation whole. With love and understanding - and with small acts of compassion."
She told viewers that her husband's "strength of will is unstoppable" and "his faith is unshakable" because "his faith is in you - in us."
The speech was her biggest yet, and marked a considerable evolution for a woman who is a self-described introvert and initially a reluctant political wife. In her memoir, she writes of giving her first political speech and having no desire to "give any speeches, anytime, anywhere - just the thought of doing so made me so nervous I felt sick."
But after eight years as the vice president's wife, and then giving speeches and appearing at events after her husband left office, Jill Biden has become one of her husband's most prominent surrogates. She has appeared in virtual events in more than 17 cities since May and is one of the campaign's primary surrogates to Latino voters, headlining town halls and holding frequent calls with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
In one week this month, Jill Biden appeared at a science-focused fundraiser, an event with Joe Biden's faith coalition and a gathering focused on LGBTQ youth, speaking with emotion and fluency about her husband's plans for each constituency.
VIDEOS: Watch Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders, more deliver remarks for Day 1 of the DNC
She's also one of his most protective surrogates, a quality she writes about in her memoir - and one that was on full display during a Super Tuesday speech Joe Biden gave in March when a handful of protesters rushed the stage. Jill moved between the protesters and her husband, pushing a protester away.
Jill Biden married the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee in 1977, and helped raise his surviving sons, Beau and Hunter, before giving birth to daughter Ashley in 1981.
As Joe Biden commuted from Delaware to Washington while serving as a senator, his wife built a career as a teacher, ultimately earning two master's degrees and then a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware in 2007.
Along the way, former coworkers say, Jill Biden, 69, became one of her husband's most valuable political advisers, someone whose opinion was paramount in most of his biggest decisions, both political and personal. She was skeptical of his 1988 presidential campaign but pushed him to run again in 2008, according to her memoir.
After Joe Biden became the presumptive nominee this year, she played a prominent role in auditioning many of the vice presidential candidates, appearing with them at various events. During a recent interview on CBS, Jill Biden acknowledged that she and her husband "talked about the different woman candidates."
"But it's gotta be Joe's decision," she added.
Those who know Jill Biden best say she's slightly perplexed at being called one of her husband's most significant "advisers," insisting that her relationship with her husband is far deeper and more nuanced than such a label would suggest.
"He's got plenty of political advisers. That's not what she is," said Cathy Russell, who was Jill Biden's chief of staff during the Obama administration and is now a vice chair on the campaign. "She is his spouse, and she loves him, and she talks to him about all sorts of things, but she has a unique role, and it's not being a political adviser. That's not her thing."
Jill Biden continued to teach at a community college while her husband was vice president, against the advice of aides at the time.
"Being a teacher is not what I do but who I am," she wrote in her memoir, describing "scrambling into a cocktail dress and heels" in the bathroom at her school to make it to a White House reception, or grading papers on Air Force Two, with relish.
Indeed, she has said she plans to continue teaching if she becomes first lady.
Dr. Jill Biden's full remarks for the 2020 DNC:
I have always loved the sounds of a classroom. The quiet that sparks with possibility just before students shuffle in. The murmur of ideas bouncing back and forth as we explore the world together. The laughter and tiny moments of surprise you find in materials you've taught a million times.
When I taught English here at Brandywine High School, I would spend my summer preparing for the school year about to start-filled with anticipation. But this quiet is heavy. You can hear the anxiety that echoes down empty hallways. There's no scent of new notebooks or freshly waxed floors. The rooms are dark as the bright young faces that should fill them are now confined to boxes on a computer screen.
I hear it from so many of you: the frustration of parents juggling work while they support their children's learning-or are afraid that their kids might get sick from school. The concern of every person working without enough protection. The despair in the lines that stretch out before food banks. And the indescribable sorrow that follows every lonely last breath when the ventilators turn off.
As a mother and a grandmother, as an American, I am heartbroken by the magnitude of this loss-by the failure to protect our communities-by every precious and irreplaceable life gone. Like so many of you, I'm left asking: how do I keep my family safe?
Healing a Family
You know, motherhood came to me in a way I never expected. I fell in love with a man and two little boys standing in the wreckage of unthinkable loss. Mourning a wife and mother-a daughter and sister.
I never imagined, at the age of 26, I would be asking myself: how do you make a broken family whole? Still, Joe always told the boys, "Mommy sent Jill to us,"-and how could I argue with her?
And so, we figured it out together-in those big moments that would go by too fast-
Thanksgivings and state championships, birthdays and weddings. In the mundane ones that we didn't even know were shaping our lives: reading stories, piled on the couch. Rowdy Sunday dinners and silly arguments. Listening to the faint sounds of laughter that would float downstairs as Joe put the kids to bed every night-while I studied for grad school or graded papers under the pale yellow kitchen lamp-the dinner dishes waiting in the sink.
We found that love holds a family together. Love makes us flexible and resilient. It allows us to become more than ourselves-together. And though it can't protect us from the sorrows of life, it gives us refuge-a home.
How do you make a broken family whole? The same way you make a nation whole. With love and understanding-and with small acts of kindness. With bravery. With unwavering faith.
You show up for each other, in big ways and small ones, again and again. It's what so many of you are doing right now. For your loved ones. For complete strangers. For your communities.
There are those who want to tell us that our country is hopelessly divided-that our differences are irreconcilable. But that's not what I've seen over these months.
We're coming together and holding on to each other. We're finding mercy and grace in the moments we might have once taken for granted. We're seeing that our differences are precious and our similarities infinite.
We have shown that the heart of this nation still beats with kindness and courage. That's the soul of America Joe Biden is fighting for now.
Why Joe Fights
After our son, Beau, died of cancer, I wondered if I would ever smile or feel joy again. It was summer but there was no warmth left for me.
Four days after Beau's funeral, I watched Joe shave and put on his suit. I saw him steel himself in the mirror-take a breath-put his shoulders back-and walk out into a world empty of our son. He went back to work. That's just who he is.
There are times when I couldn't imagine how he did it-how he put one foot in front of the other and kept going. But I've always understood why he did it.
...For the daughter who convinces her mom to finally get a breast cancer screening and misses work to drive her to the clinic.
...For the community college student who has faced homelessness and survived abuse-but finds the grit to finish her degree and make a good life for her kids.
...For the little boy whose mom is serving as a marine in Iraq, who puts on a brave face in his video call, and doesn't complain when the only thing he wants for his birthday is to be with her.
...For all those people Joe gives his personal phone number to, at rope lines and events-the ones he talks to for hours after dinner-helping them smile through their loss-letting them know that they aren't alone.
He does it for you.
Joe's purpose has always driven him forward. His strength of will is unstoppable. And his faith is unshakable-because it's not in politicians or political parties-or even himself. It's in the providence of God. His faith is in you-in us.
Yes, so many classrooms are quiet right now. The playgrounds are still. But if you listen closely, you can hear the sparks of change in the air.
Across the country, educators, parents, first responders-Americans of all walks of life are
putting their shoulders back, fighting for each other. We haven't given up.
We just need leadership worthy of our nation. Worthy of you. Honest leadership to bring us back together-to recover from this pandemic and prepare for whatever else is next. Leadership to reimagine what our nation will be.
That's Joe. He and Kamala will work as hard as you do, every day, to make this nation better. And if I have the honor of serving as your First Lady, I will too.
And with Joe as president, these classrooms will ring out with laughter and possibility once again.
The burdens we carry are heavy, and we need someone with strong shoulders. I know that if we entrust this nation to Joe, he will do for your family what he did for ours: bring us together and make us whole. Carry us forward in our time of need. Keep the promise of America, for all of us.