Last year, Barack and Michelle Obama made a headline-making trip to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Tex., where they delivered historic keynote speeches, marking the first time a sitting President and First Lady participated in the 30-year span of the event.
This year, it was former Vice President Joe Biden’s turn to cause a stir.
Despite chilly temperatures and the inopportune lost hour of sleep due to Daylight Savings Time — especially amid the crush of nonstop parties — throngs of festivalgoers lined up early Sunday morning in the hopes of securing a wristband. Seven hours later, Biden took the stage at the Austin Convention Center to launch the Biden Cancer Initiative (BidenFoundation.org).
Former Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden introduced “my man of action,” as the crowd cheered, adding that her husband is “a man who always strives to make the seemingly impossible possible.”
Biden, nailing the laid-back Texas style sans tie with the top two buttons in his striped button-down shirt undone, noted of the full house, “I didn’t expect this many people.” He cracked, “Obviously Pharrell’s not playing at the same time!”
But the tone took a serious turn as Biden credited the death of his son, “my Beau” Biden, who died at 46 years old nearly two years ago due to brain cancer, as the reason behind his anticancer crusade. “We lost our son on Memorial Day and I had been putting off the decision to seek the Democratic nomination for President,” said Biden, who later fought back tears as he recalled Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s motion to rename the cancer initiative after Beau late last year.
Ultimately, the former Senator from Delaware revealed that he — and his family — “didn’t have the stomach to do it,” meaning run for president. His only regret, he recalled telling reporters in the White House Rose Garden at the time: “I would have loved to have been the president to preside over the end of cancer as we know it.”
After the support of his “close, close personal friend,” Barack Obama, he explained, “Jill and I decided that we were going to devote at least a portion of the rest of our lives in this fight against cancer.”
Throughout his moving hourlong speech, part of the festival’s Connect to End Cancer series, the 47th vice president shared the progress made under the leadership of the White House Cancer Moonshot task force and underlined the importance of instilling “hope” and approaching cancer “with the urgency of now.”
The 74-year-old Biden, a hit with the Millennial, techie crowd with his impassioned, folksy style, ended with an emotional plea to the tech community, citing the need for innovative solutions to remove barriers in the fight to end cancer: “South by Southwest has brought together some of the most creative minds in the world. We need your ingenuity. We can have a profound effect on cancer. We need you. You’re the future,” said Biden, drawing cheers and a standing ovation.