Jill Biden has gone to great lengths to keep her status as a political wife under the radar of her students, to whom she is simply known as “Dr. B”.
During her eight years in the Obama administration as Second Lady (she preferred the title of “Vice Team Captain”), Dr. Biden continued to teach composition in English at Northern Virginia Community College. (Nova). She even demanded that Secret Service agents accompanying her to work dress up as students.
And when the 69-year-old becomes America’s next first lady, she’ll be the first to continue her professional career in the role. But this time, when she returns to her day job in January, she may find it hard to keep a low profile.
Student Karolina Straznikiewicz, 27, was taught by Dr Biden before going on leave earlier this year to join her husband, President-elect Joe Biden, on the election trail. Straznikiewicz spent his first lesson trying to figure out why his teacher seemed so familiar to him.
“My brain was telling me that it’s so impossible for a second lady from America to teach at a community college around here… I’m pretty sure a lot of the students in the class had no idea who she was until. ‘at the end of the semester. “
But now Straznikiewicz thinks Dr B’s blanket needs to be destroyed. This year, Dr Biden has traveled the country on the campaign trail as a valued and energetic advocate for her husband, giving television interviews and speaking at drive-through rallies.
In a moving and well-received speech at the Democratic convention this summer – delivered from an empty classroom at Brandywine High School in their hometown of Wilmington, Delaware – she spoke of the anxiety and heartbreak of the pandemic.
But she also conveyed a sense of irresistible pleasure. During the convention, her granddaughters Natalie and Naomi described her as “not your average grandmother” and a “prank,” remembering how she woke them up at 5 am on Christmas Eve to go at a spinning class at SoulCycle and had picked up dead snakes while jogging to play practical jokes on family members.
“Sadly, she’s going to let everyone know who she is because there’s no way to miss her,” Straznikiewicz said. She noted that Dr Biden is a “difficult workbook” – a sentiment echoed in reviews on the Rate My Professors website. But it made his first A even more memorable.
“She returned my article to me and said ‘it was excellent as always’. It has always stuck with me and it totally reversed my thinking about my education.
She never mentioned her husband, but one morning Straznikiewicz recalls Dr Biden telling them about a dramatic interaction with a bat that had entered their house. “It was so normal and so everyday… She was just our regular teacher.
They studied the memoirs of Trevor Noah Born a Crime, had conversations about race and current affairs, and were asked to write about their own beliefs and experiences. Dr Biden’s sister-in-law, Valerie Biden Owens, gave a lecture to students on women’s confidence.
Straznikiewicz can’t wait to see a community college professor become the first lady. “I think she will really stand up for us.”
Jennifer Lawless, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia, said Dr Biden is “breaking down a glass ceiling” for the first ladies and, with Kamala Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, leaving his job to become the first second American gentleman, represents an evolution of American politics.
“This is the first time we’ve seen someone say, ‘You know what? My past life is also important and I’m not going to define myself entirely based on my husband’s job, ”she said.
The incoming first lady, who has taught for 36 years and has four degrees, left Delaware Technical Community College in 2009 after Barack Obama won the presidential election with her husband as a candidate.
“Everyone thought I would stop teaching and become a full-time second wife,” Dr. Biden wrote in his book Where The Light Enters. “But not only did I want to continue teaching, but I was being recruited by the Dean of Nova.
She went against the advice of senior advisors to do it because she “just wanted to do what I love most.” She said she “relished the tension” between the worlds of politics and education.
Dr Jimmie McClellan, the dean of liberal arts at Nova and the supervisor of Dr Biden, said, “We don’t treat her any differently from anyone else. She’s a member of the faculty, and she has a booth like all of us… when she’s there, we don’t really talk about her husband’s life, we talk about education and teaching and our students.
When she was second lady, he remembers that she left with a stack of papers to go to a state dinner and returned with all the students the next morning.
McClellan said she was amazed at the stories of her students, many of whom are immigrants and refugees, and that she would leave post-its on the mirror in the bathroom of the Vice Presidential Residence so that her husband “know which students to cross”. She also started a mentoring program for women.
Along with her career, which she says “has supported my passions and my independence for over 30 years,” family is at the heart of what drives Dr. Biden.
The eldest of five sisters, she was born in Hammonton, New Jersey, where her father’s name is inscribed on a World War II monument, and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
At 18, when she started at the University of Delaware, she said that she “suddenly saw the cracks in our society up close.” She also married her first husband, a relationship that ended in divorce five years later.
In 1975, she had her first date with the President-elect – then a senator, who had lost his wife and daughter in a car crash in 1972 – after being introduced by her brother Frank, whom she knew. at University.
She wasn’t initially impressed with his suit and straight lace-up moccasins, but they ended up coming out three nights in a row.
After five proposals, they married in 1977, and Dr. Biden became the stepmother to his two young sons, Beau and Hunter. Four years later, she gave birth to a daughter, Ashley.
As an introvert, she said she had “never been a natural wife as a political bride,” but found her public voice speaking out on issues such as the military – especially after Beau joined the National Guard – and Cancer.
She said her husband “had a tendency to pull me out of my shell and I helped him keep his feet on the ground.” In 2003, she memorably wrote “no” on her stomach while wearing a bikini when party advisers tried to persuade her husband to run for president.
In the White House, her shared interest in the military with former first lady Michelle Obama led to the creation of the Joining Forces initiative, which Dr Biden announced she would revive as first lady.
Obama has described Dr. Biden as his “partner in crime” and “one of the most entrenched people you will ever meet.” She also noted Dr. Biden’s enthusiasm for practical jokes, which once led her to hide in Air Force Two’s top locker.
When Beau was diagnosed with brain cancer, the Obamas were the only people the Bidens told about. Her death in 2015 left Dr Biden “broken,” she recently said.
Jeremy Bernard, White House social secretary and special assistant to the president for four and a half years under the Obama administration, said that between the two couples there had “always been a very warm and genuine fondness for one. the other”.
He said Dr Biden was welcoming from day one he took office and remembers seeing her the night before shopping at Whole Foods. When he mentioned it the next day, he said she invited him to join her and her team for hot yoga.
Every time she walked into a room, she recognized everyone there, a quality that he said is “very rare, not just in politics, but in general.”
He said she had a close relationship with her staff, which was part of her social life, and that she would write handwritten thank you notes after state and holiday dinners.
Dr Biden spokesperson Michael LaRosa said she is currently spending time with her children and six grandchildren in Wilmington and “focused on building her team and developing her focused priorities. on education, military families and veterans and cancer ”. Over the summer, she was certified to teach virtually.
In his victory speech, President-elect Biden said, “For American educators, this is a great day for all of you. You’re going to have one at the White House. ”
Katherine Jellison, professor of history at Ohio University, agrees. “Having the first lady as a cheerleader for American education, and especially American public education, will be a great thing for the education profession. “