Vice President Joe Biden's great-grandfather graduated from in 1875, and went on to witness unheard of innovations in communication and transportation.
But young people attending the college today will see even greater technological leaps, the vice president told Lafayette students Wednesday night.
"Since you've been born, the world has fundamentally changed," Biden told a capacity crowd at Lafayette's Kirby Sports Center. "It will change utterly again."
And America will lead that change, the vice president said during his hourlong address in which he promoted President Barack Obama's education agenda, while making only oblique references to "our opponents."
For example: "I wish our opponents would read and understand the history and journey of our country," Biden said.
The Scranton native said that history is one of presidents -- both Democrat and Republican -- backing technological progress, whether it was Lincoln pledging $16,000 for every mile of track laid down on the transcontinental railroad or FDR promoting rural electrification.
And it's also a history where the United States led the world in education, Biden said.
"When I tell people we rank 16th in the world of people who graduate from college, they're incredulous," he said.
Biden said the White House wants to get the country back into first place in college graduates by 2020. He said the administration is giving more money to Pell grants (federal money for students to pay for college), and making student loans cheaper.
The hope: that today's students become tomorrow scientists and start developing things like cheap solar power, better cancer drugs or the technology to regrow organs.
"Folks, these are not pipe dreams," Biden said. "As we speak, leading scientists and educators are working on what I just said. It's all within our reach."
"Here's the catch," he added. The rest of the world is awakening. Other major countries are in the same hot pursuit of each of these outcomes."
And whatever country can -- for example -- make a solar panel with a chip inside that's as cheap as coal -- will move to the front of that race, Biden said.
He maintained it's the United States that will win the race, but argued that he's not engaging in "American chauvanism," but rather just studying history.
"I know the naysayers have been wrong almost every single time. Your parents were told in the '80s Japan would dominate the world economy. It did not happen," Biden said. "It's never been a good bet to bet against America. It’s stamped in our DNA that tomorrow will be better than today. That’s who we are."
Biden's lecture was part of the college's Lives of Liberty series. Past speakers have included Salman Rushdie and Gloria Steinem. He's also the second major world figure to speak at the college in the last 12 months, following in October 2011.
Biden was introduced by student govenment President Caroline Lang, who joked that the vice president's reputation for cramming while in college meant he'd be able to help her and her classmates.
Biden, in turn had a request for Lang: "I hope you’ll remember me when I bring my great-grandchildren by to see you in the White House."