On a sunny Friday afternoon, Juliana Graceffo played hooky. But the Eastlake High School senior had a good reason — she was busy introducing President Joe Biden at Green River College in Auburn.
On Apr. 22, Biden, during his first visit to Seattle after taking office, stopped by Green River College to speak to an audience of local representatives and students about lowering costs for energy and healthcare. It was the first presidential visit to Washington state in six years.
Graceffo, 17, spoke alongside her mother, Elisa Graceffo, about her personal journey with the healthcare system when she introduced the president. She described how her diabetes diagnosis led to her journey as an activist and the need to make insulin more affordable for Americans.
Graceffo was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 4. She now relies on an insulin pump connected to a glucose monitor to keep her alive. Treatment for type 1 diabetes has evolved since back then, when she had to learn how to poke her own finger to draw blood at least 10 times a day and give herself at least 10 to 15 insulin shots.
As a child, Graceffo’s parents had to make sure her friends’ parents were trained on handling emergency situations that could potentially arise during playdates.
Graceffo is currently a competitive dancer and has been dancing since she was 3. During an interview with the Sammamish Independent, she expressed relief that her medical condition has not prohibited her passion for dance, but she still keeps extra insulin and snacks in case her blood sugar goes low during dance.
“I just had to grow up a lot quicker,” said Graceffo.
The main message Graceffo said she wanted to voice was the need to lower insulin costs. To Graceffo, “it’s unreasonable for anyone to be deciding between groceries, rent, and their prescription drugs” for circumstances they did not choose.
Since her diagnosis, Graceffo has been deeply involved with the Pacific Northwest chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). She and her family participate in the annual Beat the Bridge fundraiser for JDRF, hosted by Nordstrom. The fundraiser takes place at the University of Washington, from which participants attempt to run across University Bridge as it gets raised during the race. Graceffo’s team, Team Juliana, has raised more than $500,000 at this event over the last 14 years.
Through JDRF, Graceffo became the Washington state delegate for Children’s Congress in 2019. This entailed traveling with a group of fellow youth with type 1 diabetes to lobby Congress to support the Special Diabetes Program. The program, which provided $150 million annually for diabetes research, was ultimately renewed last year, with funding running until 2023.
When Rep. Kim Schrier learned that President Biden would be visiting Seattle, she reached out to JDRF, who recommended Graceffo as a speaker for Biden’s visit.
“I didn’t really believe it until I saw him in the flesh,” Graceffo said of learning that she would be introducing the president. “It was definitely an honor.”
At Eastlake, her classmates were watching her speech live. Upon returning to school the following Monday, teachers and friends bombarded Graceffo with questions. She recounts the whole experience as being “super surreal.”
“I didn’t really process it in the moment,” said Graceffo. “I kind of just walked out from behind a curtain and, like, there he was.”
Graceffo will be attending the University of Notre Dame next year to pursue her dream of becoming a pediatric endocrinologist.
She said the most memorable thing President Biden told her was to not be a stranger whenever he visits the Notre Dame campus.
“If she ever sees me on campus, I don’t want her to say ‘Joe who?’” said Biden with a grin during the event.