Meeting Joe Biden

Laurel student Steven Pander, 11, shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden during Monday's Labor Day celebration in Pittsburgh.

Steven Pander admits he didn't know at first that it was such a big deal to shake Joe Biden's hand Monday during the Pittsburgh Labor Day parade.

"My dad told me, 'You just shook Vice President Joe Biden's hand,' and I was like, 'Who's he the vice president of?'" said the 11-year-old Laurel sixth-grader. "I was just in shock, shock, shock when I realized who he was. Of all the places that he could've gone, he decided to shake my hand."

Steven, the son of Carrie and Rich Pander of Frew Mill Road, was a part of a group of about 20 children taking part in the parade to represent the Wexford-based Variety the Children's Charity, which provides adaptive bikes to eligible children with disabilities, among other programs, throughout 22 western Pennsylvania counties.

Rich Pander said his son, who has cerebral palsy, rode his bright green bike for the length of the parade, which drew a crowd of about 60,000. As the group was headed back to a meeting spot, Rich said, they stopped along the parade route when they heard the vice president was nearby.

"First (Pittsburgh) mayor (Bill) Peduto went by and then the motorcade was going by, with all the limousines, and we were trying to figure out which car Joe Biden was in," Rich said. "But then he came walking up behind the cars and right into our group. He wasn't in a hurry; he was very personal."

"He was a very kind man," Steven said. "He was very nice. He said hi to me, like a meet-and-greet. Not in my entire life did I think I'd shake hands with someone so important."

Biden was in town for the annual display of union solidarity, offering remarks on Liberty Avenue before the parade kicked off. While he did not announce a bid for the presidency as many expected, he slammed opponents of organized labor and bemoaned the rise in inequality.

Steven shared his "stellar weekend" story with friends and teachers at Laurel Elementary School on Tuesday, and by the end of the day, he said everyone was calling him "Mr. Celebrity."

"I tried to tell as many people as I could at school today and everyone was proud of me," he said. "Most of the teachers were like, 'Wow, that's cool,' and half of the kids were shocked.

"I blew everyone's mind!"

(Email: jshelenberger@ncnewsonline.com)

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Jessica Shelenberger is a former feature writer, city editor and assistant editor for The News. She taught writing and journalism courses at Westminster College.

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