Grace takes Independence Hall

Longtime LM teacher John Grace attended President Biden’s speech at Independence Hall this summer after writing to the president and receiving a personal invitation over the phone.

Photo by Charles Henneberry

On September 1, President Joseph Biden delivered a speech outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Biden spoke about the current political climate in America, specifically regarding the division between political parties and detrimental ideologies of certain groups within parties. Global Studies teacher John Grace was invited by the White House to attend the speech. Grace received the invitation in response to a letter he wrote to the White House, thanking the Biden-Harris administration for their student debt relief plan. This is not the first time Grace has reached out to political leaders, having written to representatives on the Philadelphia City Council, the mayor of Philadelphia, and even some congressmen. Despite writing about two to three letters a year for many years, this was the first time Grace has written to the President.

He wrote to Biden because, “I wanted to tell him my story, my family’s story, and tell him I understand the struggle [he’s] reporting.” Grace had been following the development of the student loan relief program since Biden first announced it. As a public school teacher in a single income family with four children who each attended private universities, the program Biden has launched will significantly help Grace and his family. Grace says, “I really appreciate it…It will be great for us.”

Grace did not expect the response he got, saying, “In almost every case, the responses that I receive are generic ones that some staff member has acknowledged, often with a list of policy initiatives that are focused on what it is that I’m writing to either agree or to disagree with.” Instead of an automated email that has been sent to hundreds of other people, Grace received a phone call. At first, he thought it was a practical joke, but after consulting with his wife, Cecelia Grace, Grace called the White House back. A young man answered the telephone and, according to Grace, said, “We read your letter, we thought it was terrific, and we really want to invite you to be guests at the President’s speech at Independence Hall.”

After filling out biographical security forms, receiving safety details, and an official invitation, the Graces made their way to Old City. They took their seats in the second row, about ten feet away from Biden. Grace says, “The only thing between us and the President was a railing, one row, the podium, and the bulletproof glass around Biden. That was it.”

When asked about the speech itself, Grace said, “What impressed me about the President’s speech was his willingness to acknowledge a serious threat to the way that our democracy works.” Grace also noted that there were protestors at the event saying, “they were loud, they were profane, and you could not mistake hearing them.” Biden acknowledged the protestors during his speech and, according to Grace, said, “There’s a difference between protesting respectfully and what these guys are doing.” The protestors were not removed by law enforcement during the speech, but instead were moved to various places around the exterior of Independence Hall. Grace says, “The whole process of who we are as a people, was literally being played out that night and it was a great opportunity to observe.”

A call from a White House representative was not what Grace foresaw when he wrote
to the President. He was lucky enough to earn an invitation to Biden’s speech where he learned more about the President’s stance on the discontent in the nation. In addition to Grace’s appreciation for the Biden-Harris administration and their student debt relief plan being rewarded, he was able to watch the parallels of political parties be demonstrated before his eyes. To those who wish to reach out to political leaders, let Grace be an example of why speaking out for what policies, laws, and movements you believe in, is important. And, to answer the question that everybody’s really been asking, no, Mr. Grace did not
wear a Hawaiian shirt to see the President.

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