Make It New Grads

Joe Biden explains how this one trait can make you both happy and successful

Joe Biden
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Joe Biden

In honor of graduation season, CNBC Make It is rolling out the speeches and advice that America's leaders are most excited to share with the Class of 2017. Follow along using the hashtag #MakeItNewGrads.

Former Vice President Joe Biden told Colby College graduates on Sunday to be committed and passionate, to stand up against indignity and, perhaps most importantly, to realize that you can't go through life without connecting with people. Even, or especially, your opponents.

Form relationships with other people, he said. Real ones. That will help you to both be happy in life and to succeed.

Biden told the Class of 2017:

All politics, all international relations is personal.

I have met every major world leader in the last 42 years, without exception. I've met an awful lot of people who are supposedly, in fact are, powerful. And I've found that not all those who are successful are happy. And I've found the one common trait, that those who've found that sweet spot between success and happiness, are those persons who are personal.

Caring about your colleague as they're dealing with a sick parent, or their child has graduated from college, or the child just was in an accident. That's the stuff that fosters real relationships, breeds trust, allows you to get things done in a complex world.

It helps to tell, and listen to, stories, Biden said. He lamented that, when people forget to do that, they drift from each other and then "we don't know each other anymore." That makes it easier for suspicion and enmity to develop.

When you do tell stories with someone else, on the other hand, "you get to understand and see their humanity." It's part of treating everyone with dignity, even an adversary.

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaking at the Colby College Commencement, May 21, 2017.
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaking at the Colby College Commencement, May 21, 2017.

Strive for empathy, Biden urged:

The person on the other side of the negotiating table, the other side of the political debate; a person who doesn't look like you, who lives in a community you've never visited, a person who has a different background or religion than yours. They're not some flattened version of humanity, reducible to a collection of parts and attributes. They're a whole person, flawed, struggling to make it in the world just like you.

You have to work to ascribe to your opposition the same emotional complexity you find in yourself that you possess.

Biden also told students to work hard — "be a mule" — and, though he wasn't particularly succinct himself, he discussed the most memorable commencement speech he could recall, a concise one Bob Hope gave Georgetown University students in the midst of the Vietnam War.

I'm inclined to do what a commencement speaker did the year that Pete Rouse graduated from here in 1968 and I graduated from law school. Bob Hope was the commencement speaker at Georgetown University that year. It was the middle of the Vietnam War, things were getting worse, and he stood up after recognizing all the celebrities and the faculty, and he turned and he looked at the students and he said, "I have one thing to say to you: don't go." And he sat down.

It was maybe the most meaningful speech that was given that year at a commencement.

He reflected on the chaos he graduated into in 1968 and said that, although graduates today face similar challenges, he's optimistic and thinks they should be too. "Now it's your turn," he said. "It's time."

Look for more exclusive pieces of advice from icons like Melinda Gates, Dave Ramsey, Tony Robbins and others, and follow along using the hashtag #MakeItNewGrads.