By JULIE PACE and DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press
The following excerpt is from the introduction to “Jill: A Biography of the First Lady,” by Associated Press reporters Julie Pace and Darlene Superville. The book details the life of Dr. Jill Biden. Superville covers the White House for the AP; Pace, a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief, is now AP’s editor.
A teacher for more than 30 years, Dr Jill Biden had a long history of waking up in the dark – but that was something else entirely.
She heard the whistle of the 5:20 a.m. Northeast Regional train breaking through the still air as it passed her home in Wilmington, Delaware. The winter of 2017 was particularly cold and dark. After eight years at the highest level of the American government, Joe and Jill Biden had left Washington behind. Donald Trump was now in the White House, and the 19th-century mansion on the grounds of the Naval Observatory that had served as the Bidens’ home during Joe’s two terms as vice president was occupied by the new second family, Mike and Karen Pence.
But Jill Biden continued to teach at a community college just outside Washington that had become a second home for her, a place where she could channel her passion for education and escape the political pressure cooker.
Teaching English classes at Northern Virginia Community College — which everyone called NOVA — now required a train ride, the same trip her husband had taken for 36 years to get to his Senate job. Amtrak had renamed the Wilmington station after Joe Biden five years earlier in recognition of the thousands of hours he had spent commuting.
Teaching was about the only thing that could bring Jill Biden back to Washington at the time. It was never a city she called home, despite her husband’s profession. She and the couple’s three children had always lived in Wilmington, part of a close-knit community of family and friends. She had embraced her role as second lady, but Washington was also filled with difficult memories, most recently the loss of her son Beau to cancer.
From Wilmington, she would take the 1.5-hour trip to Washington’s Union Station, then request an Uber for the nine-mile trip across the Potomac River, a journey that meandered through areas of DC that mixed the big and the grimy, past the Jefferson and Air Force memorials, and around the Pentagon to the NOVA campus in Alexandria, Virginia. It was only a 20 minute ride on a good day, but traffic in Washington was still bad in the morning. She did the whole thing backwards to go home later that day. Despite the commitment she felt to her students, many of whom were immigrants and the first members of their families to attend college, the long commutes were beginning to wear her down.
Jill Biden’s time as second lady had brought her great joy and meaningful work. She helped spearhead President Obama’s proposal for a free community college — an ambitious plan that ultimately went nowhere in Congress — co-founded an organization to support military families called Joining Forces with First Lady Michelle Obama, and successfully taught at NOVA for all eight years.
A recent heartbreak had left both Bidens battered. Beau died in 2015 at age 46 from aggressive brain cancer, leaving behind a wife and two young children. After a long period of indecision following Beau’s death, Joe Biden had decided not to run for president in 2016; Hillary Clinton ran in her place and lost to Trump. Their youngest son, Hunter, who had long struggled with drugs and alcohol, now seemed to see his life disintegrating into heavy drug use, long disappearances and a bitter, public divorce.
Returning to a more private life, Jill had to relearn her rhythms – of driving, of entering a store without an ever-present entourage of Secret Service personnel and agents. She had to learn new tools, like Uber and Venmo, to maneuver around the world.
In the past, she would have found fun in all of this. She had always been a joyful learner and throughout her life. But the loss of Beau weighed heavily on his every move. She wasn’t just moving on – she was moving on without her son.
“Life was just different,” she said, thinking back to those times during a 2021 interview. “You just can’t lose a child and say, ‘Oh, now we’re going to move on. “” She often turned on the first television news as she got ready in the morning. The new administration was unlike anything she had ever seen. She tried not to dwell on Trump’s swift tearing down of everything Obama and her husband had built. She knew that any new president, Republican or Democrat, would have changed things done by their predecessors. She could only hope that Trump wouldn’t be as bad as many feared.
Even with Joe Biden out of politics for the first time in his adult life, they found new ways to serve. They were both dedicated to cancer research. Biden met with scientists and experts; Jill Biden with families and caregivers. They worked to create the Biden Foundation, which would fund initiatives on causes that had long been close to the hearts of the Bidens, such as preventing violence against women and expanding access to college.
She was teaching, speaking and starting to work on a book. It was, according to Jill, a full life.
And she still had NOVA. She adored her students and was deeply invested in their future. The diverse and international origins of his students opened his eyes.
“I saw everyone at NOVA,” she said. “I just couldn’t go back.”
So she made the early Amtrak trains her alarm clock, knowing that by the time she reached Washington, the darkness of night would give way to the bright light of morning. Life, in its relentless way, went on.
As soon as Jill attempted to settle back into life outside of politics, politics brought her back inside. Her husband launched his third, and perhaps least anticipated, presidential campaign, successfully unseating Trump in November 2020, amid a pandemic and deep partisanship. Split.
Dr. Jill Biden took on the role of first lady decades later than she originally expected.
She arrived hardened, and sometimes jaded, by the harsh realities of American politics and the personal tragedies her family had endured in the public eye. Yet she also entered the White House as a symbol of resilience and relatability – a woman fiercely protective of her family, her passions and her ambitions.
By choosing to keep her teaching job at NOVA while her husband served in the Oval Office, Jill Biden became the first first lady in American history to continue her career in the White House. She spends her weeks criss-crossing the country, jotting down papers as she flies and urging Americans to get their COVID-19 shots or comfort those whose lives have been turned upside down by natural disasters. Then she returns to Washington to give him writing lessons twice a week, where his students often just call him Dr. B. She taught virtually during the pandemic and returned to class, masked like her students, for the semester. fall 2021.
Elected to public office at age 29, Joe Biden has served as a senator, vice president and president through tumultuous historical periods. In this book, we explored what those years were like from Jill Biden’s perspective.
Since Joe Biden took office, Jill Biden — like many first ladies before her — has largely avoided the active politics and heightened partisanship that led millions of Americans to mistakenly believe her husband was not legitimately elected. . Yet privately, she laments the corrosive nature of modern American politics, which has repeatedly put her family in the crosshairs.
Above all, she is a fiercely protective wife, mother and grandmother.
She published a memoir, “Where the Light Enters,” in 2019 after her time in the Obama administration, but ours is the first book to capture her in her own words while she was first lady.
First ladies have fascinated the American public since the founding of the nation. They were both loved and reviled, idolized and scrutinized. They hold no official position and carry no official mandate from voters. In modern American politics, they are expected to have high political priorities, while knowing how to stay on the right side of the imaginary line that separates them from their elected husbands.
“The first lady, at least in my research, hasn’t always thought about what’s going on in society,” said Myra Gutin, a communications professor at Rider University who studies first ladies. “Sometimes they are much more reflective of the era in which they were born.”
Jill Biden brings childhood values forged in the 1950s and 1960s, the experience of coming of age in the 1970s, a political life amid the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s, and the experience of a Blue Star mother of the post-9/11 era. Her past informs her perspective on the present and her role as one of the most prominent women in the world. Her future, however, is deeply uncertain, tied to America’s heightened political polarization and uncertainty, and the legacy of her husband’s presidency. The present gives it one of the most important platforms in the world.
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