With pomp and circumstance of presidential proportions, President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, and their family were in the stands of Franklin Field as 6,000 newly-minted University of Pennsylvania graduates turned their tassels Monday.

Sitting on crimson cushions in a cordoned-off section of stadium bleachers, the president attended the commencement as a proud grandfather of Roberta “Maisy” Biden, who received a bachelor of arts degree.

Biden sat quietly throughout the ceremony, but his presence was hard to miss. Roads near the stadium were blocked off, and Secret Service ringed the exterior perimeter of Franklin Field, screening the thousands of family members and supporters in attendance who were instructed to arrive hours before the ceremony began.

When the Bidens entered the bleachers before the ceremony, the stadium erupted into cheers. The president waved to the crowd and pumped a double thumbs-up before bending over a metal barricade to talk with Maisy, who is the daughter of Hunter Biden. A group of grads gathered on the track near the first family to snap photos and wave.

“There was a lot of security, but it was very cool,” said Elizabeth Stone, 22, who graduated Monday with a degree in finance statistics and data science from Wharton. She added that the whole graduation experience was “a little surreal,” particularly after pandemic interruptions sent her classes online for the majority of her first two years of college.

“I’m overjoyed, and I’m so proud of her,” added her mother, Bonnie Sockel-Stone, who is originally from Philadelphia but now lives in Miami. As for the ceremony and Biden’s visit, she said, “I loved it, and I loved the message.”

The university’s 267th commencement featured Tony Award winner and Frozen star Idina Menzel as speaker. To the graduates, Menzel stressed the power of using their voices and encouraged the class to “live the fullness of who you are.”

She ended her speech by singing an excerpt from The Beatles’ “Let It Be.”

Penn president Liz Magill focused on the power of community, stressing that “success is not solitary” and encouraging the class of 2023 to thank the “army of people who lent you their love.”

Magill closed out the commencement — her first as Penn president — by thanking the Bidens for attending, as the crowd applauded.

Biden and his family then reportedly stopped for lunch at Vietnam Café nearby.

Monday wasn’t the first time Biden has attended Penn commencement. As vice president in 2013, he spoke at the ceremony and received an honorary degree. He also appeared at the graduation of Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences in 2016, in support of his granddaughter, Naomi. (That year, Donald Trump — then a presidential candidate — also attended the ceremony to see his daughter Tiffany graduate.)

In April, Biden paid a visit to Penn to view Maisy Biden’s senior art show at the Charles Addams Fine Arts Gallery. Maisy’s older sister, Finnegan, graduated from Penn in 2021 with a degree in history.

Biden has deep ties to the university. He became a presidential practice professor in 2017 but took a leave in 2019 to launch his run for president. The university in 2017 also created a Washington D.C.-based center in his name, focusing on diplomacy and global engagement. The think tank became a landing zone for many Biden advisers and faced inquiries from House Republicans this year after classified documents were found in the center’s office.

But as graduates poured out of Franklin Field following Monday’s ceremony, the spectacle surrounding the first family’s attendance was quickly overshadowed. Parents and supporters beamed with their own grads, posing for photos and embracing.

“It’s always a special bonus to have the president around, but the focus is on the kids and graduates,” said Haniel Lynn, a Penn alum whose son, Carter, graduated with a degree in economics. “And we’re really, really proud of him.”

Staff writer Julia Terruso contributed to this article.


©2023 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.