Anthony Fauci has used his experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic to call upon Emory graduates to fight societal divisiveness and work together to forge a new, “even better” normal.
Fauci delivered the commencement address to Emory College of Arts and Sciences on Sunday after being awarded the Emory University President’s Medal.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health spoke via video link from Washington, DC, to the graduates in Atlanta.
Accepting the medal, Fauci said the global health crisis of Covid-19 had “changed the landscape of all of our lives.”
“One of the important things that I have come to appreciate in my experiences this past year is how destructive divisiveness is,” he said.
“If there are any lessons that we have learned from this pandemic, they are 1) science will provide the solution to this pandemic, as we have seen with the rapid and successful development of multiple safe and highly effective vaccines, and 2) societal divisiveness is counterproductive in a pandemic. We must not be at odds with each other since the virus is the enemy — not each other.”
Return to an ‘even better normal’
In his commencement address, Fauci said Covid-19 had shone a bright light on “the unacceptable disparities in health experienced by minority groups.”
People of color had suffered from more hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 compared to the general population, he said.
“Almost all related to the social disadvantageous conditions that some people of color find themselves in from birth regarding availability of an adequate diet, access to health care and the undeniable effects of racism in our society,” Fauci said.
“Let us promise ourselves that our corporate memory of this tragic reality — that an infectious disease disparately hospitalized and kills people of color — does not fade after we return to some form of normality. Righting this wrong will take a decadeslong commitment. I strongly urge you to be part of that commitment.”
Fauci told graduates it was “a hurting and challenged world” that would one day return to a new normal.
“Perhaps, however, it can be an even better normal and you can play an important role in shaping this new normal,” he said.
“Public service can be incorporated into your lives regardless of your career choice. Give this consideration and make it at least part of your lives,” he said. “Leadership can be learned from many experiences and it takes many forms including the quiet and subtle leadership of example.”
Fauci said that in previous commencement addresses he would have drawn analogies to suggest he and graduates had shared a common experience, but that did not apply to the class of 2021 because of the disruption they have faced.
“Not since the influenza pandemic of 1918 has humanity faced a public health crisis of this magnitude. Each of you deserves enormous respect for your extraordinary adaptability, resilience and dedication to learning, completing your studies and graduating despite immense difficulties and uncertainties,” he said.
‘Expect the unexpected’
Fauci said his own experiences have taught him the unexpected could be an unanticipated opportunity.
“The emergence of the AIDS pandemic and my decision to embrace change transformed my professional career, if not my entire life,” he told the graduates.
“Please believe me that you will confront the same types of unpredictable events that I’ve experienced regardless of what directions your careers or your lives take. And so, expect the unexpected and, when you can, meet the challenge and seize the relevant opportunities as they arise.”
Finally, Fauci assured graduates that the pandemic would end and “we will come out of this stronger than we were before this challenge.”
He urged them to cultivate joy as much as professional accomplishments: “Find your source of joy and happiness and fully embrace it.”
Fauci said he was “severely humbled” to receive the President’s Medal, which follows an honorary degree from the university in 2003. According to the university, he is only the sixth person to receive both awards, joining the likes of the Dalai Lama and President Jimmy Carter.