In a bid to help heal a divided country, Anthony Fauci encouraged the University of Michigan Comeback Commencement crowd to challenge untruths and push back against the “blatant distortion of reality” that permeates social media and ” so-called press organs”.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, spoke at the May 7 event, two years of preparation due to the COVID-19 pandemic for which Fauci helped guide the country’s response.
In his speech at Michigan Stadium, he spoke of the division of the nation and his view of its intensity from Washington, DC. He said the “normalization of untruths” has invaded elements of society, propagated by “certain elected officials in positions of power”.
“If you don’t remember anything else I say today, I really appeal to you, remember this: it is our collective responsibility not to sink into a tacit acceptance of the normalization of untruths. , because if we do, we are putting ourselves, our families and our communities at risk,” he said.
“This is how a society transforms into a way of life where greed becomes subordinate to propaganda rather than upheld as a guiding principle for creating and maintaining a just social order.”
Conducted under cloudless skies and a constant breeze, the Comeback Commencement was for Spring and Winter 2020 graduates from UM’s Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint campuses who missed the traditional commencement ceremonies due to of the pandemic. Winter 2019 graduates and those who graduated in 2021 were also invited to attend. University Development and Events reported that approximately 4,100 graduates responded to the event.
Ahead of his speech, Fauci received an honorary doctorate of science and received a loud, sustained standing ovation from the crowd. Outside the Big House, dozens of protesters gathered with signs at the corner of Main Street and Stadium Boulevard, while others marched through the streets of Ann Arbor honking their horns.
Fauci spoke for about 15 minutes, telling the graduates he admired them for the perseverance, dedication to learning and adaptability they showed when their educational activities were interrupted by the pandemic.
To that end, he suggested they continue to expect the unexpected.
“Planning and charting a course in life is something we’ve all done to a greater or lesser degree,” he said. “Keep a completely open mind and don’t hesitate to have impossible dreams and seize unforeseen opportunities.”
He shared a story of how his own career path changed in 1981 when, after nine years, he left what he called a “safe career in investigative medicine” at the National Institutes of Health to investigate. about the virus behind the emerging AIDS pandemic.
“Please believe me, you will face the same kinds of unpredictable events that I have experienced, no matter what direction your career or your life takes,” he said. “You have to listen to others who care about you, but ultimately follow your own instincts. It can be rewarding, exciting and change my career and my life.
Fauci encouraged graduates to take on leadership roles, including “quiet and subtle leadership by example.”
He concluded by offering a reminder of the “joy of life to come” by quoting American political theorist John Homer Shaw.
“The future is not a place we go to, but a place we create, paths are not to be found but created, and the activity of creating them changes both the creator and the destination,” he said. he declared.
The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
In her remarks, President Mary Sue Coleman expanded on a theme that “life doesn’t always go to plan” – not for the classes of 2020 and 2021, whose debuts have been delayed, or for herself, who retired in 2014 only to temporarily find himself back as UM president eight years later.
“And yet, we adapt and persevere. This is how educated, creative and responsible people meet challenges. We keep going and find ways to improve our lives and the lives of those around us,” Coleman said, citing as an example:
- The research of UM alumnus Jerome Horowitz, who in 1964 helped create a compound that hoped to slow the growth of cancer cells. Tests on mice showed no positive progress and the drug was discontinued. More than two decades later, Samuel Broder, another UM alumnus and Fauci’s colleague at the National Institutes of Health, developed Horowitz’s drug – AZT – into the first real AIDS treatment. .
- Alexa Canady, whose tough grades as a UM undergrad derailed her hopes of becoming a mathematician. But a health science scholarship led her to change majors to zoology and enroll in UM medical school. She became this country’s first African-American female neurosurgeon and Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Michigan Children’s Hospital.
- Austin Hatch, a two-time plane crash survivor, fulfilled his lifelong dream of signing to play basketball at UM – nine days before his second plane crash claimed the lives of his father and to his stepmother, and left him with a traumatic brain injury from which he took three years to recover. He stayed on the basketball team, eventually scoring a point in competition.
“But I would say it was one of the most meaningful baskets in campus history,” Coleman said, pointing out that Hatch went on to create his own company dedicated to helping others overcome their challenges.
“Austin likes to quote his late father, who once told him, ‘We’re going to keep going. That’s what we’re called to do,'” Coleman said. “We’re pressing. That’s what we said in 2020 , when the coronavirus turned our lives upside down, here on campus and beyond.
“The pandemic has stolen much of what we call the college experience: your interactions with professors, lively discussions with classmates, and a social scene that you can only find in a college town like Ann Arbor. And you lost your degree.
“But you will still have your education at the University of Michigan. No event or person, or pandemic or protocol, can take that away. »
Provost Susan M. Collins acknowledged that when the pandemic began in early 2020, no one knew how severe or long-lasting it would be.
“To continue to focus on learning and growing, I kept in mind this African proverb: ‘Calm seas do not make skilled sailors. Sometimes the waters will not be calm. And that’s where we learn the most,” she said.
“We have made great strides in managing the pandemic, but the world still faces many complex and intersecting challenges. And your judgment and choices will play a vital role in dealing with them and shaping the future.
LSA Dean Anne Curzan praised the graduates for their “resilience and perseverance” and reflected on how people felt at that time two years ago.
“We were all confused. It was a time when many of us wiped out errands, were afraid to touch doorknobs, and lived and worked in bubbles,” she recalls.
“And for this graduation, we had time to recombobulate. This relatively new word, recombobulate, is my graduation gift to you. … A key skill in life, recombobulation. He recognizes that life can kick us and leave us in disarray, bewildered. And we recombobulate, knowing we’ll have to do it again.
Afeefah Khan, who received a master’s degree in management from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business in 2020 and her bachelor’s degree from the School of Public Health in 2019, was the student speaker.
“Class of 2020, what we thought was a two week wait turned into two tough years. However, we know we can leave Michigan, but Michigan never leaves us,” she said. “I am honored to be part of this Wolverine community, a community that encourages the use of our leadership to serve others and provides the experiences necessary to truly be: leaders and the best. Thank you and Go Blue!”