It's an understatement to say Dr. Anthony Fauci has had a hectic two years as chief medical advisor to the president during the pandemic. But he took time Thursday to congratulate a group of future doctors, nurses and researchers for their "resilience, resolve and strength of character" in a commencement speech at The University of Maryland, Baltimore.
He also received an honorary doctor of public service degree.
In his speech, Fauci, also the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, commended the class of 2022 for continuing to excel academically and professionally despite hardships brought about by the pandemic.
"The fact that you have successfully navigated each hurdle the pandemic has put your way, just to sit here today is a testimony to your resilience, resolve and strength of character," he told graduates. "And actually, I am in awe of you for this and you deserve enormous respect for your adaptability and dedication to completing your studies and graduating amidst immense difficulties."
Here are three lessons Fauci hopes resonate with new graduates:
Though students are eager to be done with school, Fauci says that dedicating yourself to continued learning will help you progress personally and professionally.
"In my own case, it became painfully apparent shortly after I graduated from medical school that my student days had just begun," he said. "However, that same principle applies to so many other fields in which we are all perpetual students. Indeed, the mosaic of our knowledge and experience is eternally unfinished."
Fauci urges students to be excited about continued learning and to always be willing to take in new information and perspectives.
We all have big plans, and it's important to work hard to bring them to life. But it's equally important to be able to adapt to situations beyond your control. According to Fauci, these unexpected events may be necessary for finding your purpose.
"Some of the most impactful events that have touched my life and the directions that I've taken have been completely unanticipated and unplanned," he said.
Fauci recalled his journey after medical school 41 years ago, when an "unusual pneumonia" started to spread across communities nationwide. Though he was already deep in medical research, he decided to abandon his original path to help find a solution to one of the "worst public health challenges" of his career, the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
His mentors told him he was making a "career-ending mistake," but he says letting go of his original plans put him on the path that he's still on today.
"You are at a period in your lives where you have the potential to do almost anything so please keep an open mind and do not shy away from dreaming impossible dreams and seizing unanticipated opportunities," he said. "Listen to the advice of others who care about you, but at the end of the day, go with your own gut. It could be rewarding, exciting, and potentially life-altering."
The Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately affected low-income communities of color. Not only is this a health issue, but a result of the "standing inequities that have undermined the physical, social, economic and emotional health of racial and ethnic minorities."
Fauci urged graduates to remember the racism and disparities communities have faced over the last two years, and promise that they won't forget their effects.
"Let us promise ourselves that our corporate memory of the tragic reality of the inequities experienced with Covid-19 does not fade as we return to our normal, new life. It will take decades-long commitment for society to address these disparities. I strongly urge you to be part of that commitment."