During the dog days of Joe Biden's presidential campaign, Street spoke separately with Seth Schuster and Samantha Delman, two employees on tasked with communicating the now–President–elect's mission and getting voters to the polls. Both described their motivation to work for Biden, experience throughout the campaign, and belief in his ability to heal our nation during this tumultuous time.
Seth Schuster (C ‘20)
“This has been arguably the best experience of my entire life. It’s been exciting, intellectually challenging, and rewarding knowing that I can make a difference, and personally rewarding knowing that I could almost say thank you for the role Joe Biden, whether he knew it or not, played in my life, both as a coping mechanism and a beacon of light during a dark time,” Seth Schuster (C ‘20) reflects.
Seth, a recent Penn graduate, began interning for Biden’s campaign in July 2019. He then worked as a fellow throughout the following school year. Upon graduation, he was offered a job as a national communications assistant on the now victorious campaign.
Seth's connection to Joe Biden is a deeply personal one, beginning his freshman year of college when he decided to write Biden a letter. His first semester at Penn in fall 2016 was another vital political moment for our nation. Seth knew that he wanted to study political science, but he wasn’t entirely sure what that would entail. Penn had just announced that Biden was going to be the Ben Franklin Presidential Practice Professor, which put Biden on the radar for Seth. He recalls thinking about whether to write the future President–elect a letter as a fellow democrat and passionate student of politics.
Three months later, this letter amassed even greater importance to Seth when his father was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme, the same brain cancer that Biden's son, Beau, died from in 2015.
“I realized that I now had even more reason to write this letter to Joe Biden, one that isn’t so much for self–advocation but for the purpose of healing. He had always been someone that I admired for his resilience, but I still didn’t write the letter. It would’ve forced me to face too many of these inevitable truths that I didn’t want to confront, namely death,” Seth recounts.
He decided to start the letter seven months later, in July 2017. His father had passed away that same week. He wrote a page and a half before putting it down again, but wasn’t quite ready to confront the tragedy that he’d been faced with yet.
Exactly eight months after his dad died, Seth finally wrote the letter. The following day, he walked into a small political communications class to learn that they had a guest speaker: Joe Biden himself. Though Seth debated running to get the letter from his room, it was too late.
“After Biden wrapped up, we took a group photo, he said a few closing words, and he was out the door. I thought I had blown my one chance. Then I had a moment of clarity where I realized that I was never going to be this close to him again," he says. "Who knows if he would ever actually receive my letter? Or if he would even read it if he did. I got up and chased him out the door." He adds that his TA grabbed him and told him to stop, to which he responded that there was something that he had to do and brushed past him. His professor also tried to stop him, telling him to get back inside the classroom. Seth kept running.
Eventually he caught up.
Seth reflected that in that moment, as Joe Biden turned to face him, everything that he was planning to say flew out of his head. Somehow he gathered his thoughts and as Biden shook his hand, Seth asked if he could write him a letter. He explained that he’d started it eight months prior, and that his dad had died of GBM that same week. Biden dropped what he was carrying in that moment and gave Seth a hug.
Not long after, Biden received and read Seth’s letter, and a year later he announced that he was running for president. Seth immediately applied for a position on his campaign and told his story during the interview. “I later learned that my boss while I was an intern—now my coworker—put down the phone after my interview and immediately said, ‘We have to hire this kid,'” Seth reflects.
Ultimately, Seth is a strong believer in Biden’s ability to unify our nation during this unprecedented time.
“We’re at what Biden would call an inflection point in American history. He’s a unifier, and always has been. He has the compassion and empathy to bring Americans together. We’re being faced with crises on several fronts, whether it be coronavirus, the economic collapse, or racial injustice…he is uniquely situated to bring America together at this critical inflection point and heal our nation.”
Samantha Delman (C ‘22)
“I was 8 years old when Joe Biden became the Vice President, and he was Vice President until I was 16. He really was the grandfather of our nation for a long time, and for very fundamental years of my life. I was obsessed with him. I had a life-sized cardboard cutout of him in high school,” Samantha Delman (C'22), reflecting on what motivated her to join the Biden campaign.
Street sat down with Samantha on that balmy Saturday morning, mere hours before Biden’s victory was announced.
Samantha is a junior studying political science who took this semester off to work with Pennsylvania Democrats as a field organizer. During the campaign, Samantha was in charge of calling a certain number of people each week in her assigned region of northern Philadelphia. These calls followed the typical phonebanking structure: she'd ask members of the community if they would volunteer with her on the campaign and survey them on which issues they most cared about during this election cycle. As she did so, Samantha familiarized herself with the Philadelphia community and built many relationships with fellow volunteers.
“I have an amazing foundation of people who became my volunteers that I worked with. I believe that I had 24 or 25 of them that would consistently show up for me and they were very supportive," Samantha says. Capitalizing on that community feel one last time, she and her team FaceTimed once Biden officially claimed victory.
Accepting the volunteer position was not an easy decision for Samantha. “I never wanted to work in politics. I want to work in policy. I have no interest in this side of things, but it was just a perfect storm for me,” she says.. Samantha explains that if school hadn’t been online, Donald Trump hadn’t been the opposition, and if the candidate was anyone other than Joe Biden, she likely wouldn’t have taken the job.
“In the end, I just realized that I'm studying political science—I don’t want to just talk the talk, I want to walk the walk. I don’t want to sit behind a desk and study the ideals of democracy and not be part of the movement that is upholding those ideals," Samantha says. "I just felt as if I would be betraying my value system if I wasn’t doing the things that needed to be done to protect our democracy."
Though the experience was a grueling one, she describes it as incredibly rewarding. Over the course of the past few months, the field organizer had the chance to speak with many different members of the Philadelphia community about what was affecting their neighborhoods and why they cared about this election. Many of these communities are "lacking so much infrastructure," Samantha says. "There’s one or two libraries and one doctor’s office. One woman explained to me that when you need to go to the doctor, you arrive at 8am, bring your breakfast and lunch, and sit there until 3pm before you get seen. That’s just how it is."
Many of the people that Samantha spoke with also expressed concern about gun violence in their neighborhoods. “One woman explained that her son had a gun pulled on him while he was delivering DoorDash just a couple of days before we spoke. It is so upsetting to me, and it reinforced the reasons why I think that Joe Biden is so good for our country,” she says.
Samantha emphasized her confidence in Joe Biden’s ability to lead the nation: “Joe Biden is a healer. He has been through so much and is exactly what this nation needs right now. We need someone with experience, someone who can bring people from both sides of the aisle together. This polarization is tearing our nation apart. We need someone to come and move forward with empathy first. That is who Joe Biden is.”