Dr. Anthony Fauci, the face of the nation's COVID-19 response, was met with standing applause from honorees and families at Michigan State University's doctoral degree commencement.
The class of 466 came from 39 states and 42 countries, and ranged in age from 25 to 68.
Fauci — who was awarded an honorary degree from MSU at the ceremony — told graduates to expect the unexpected, and not be deterred when their path appears non-linear.
"I urge you to be open to pursuing and capitalizing on unexpected opportunities," Fauci said. "It may require you to step outside of your comfort zone, but doing so with your eyes wide open to the potential risks and rewards can be exciting, fulfilling, and potentially career-and-life-long. So expect the unexpected."
Quoting MSU's motto, "advancing the common good with uncommon will," Fauci charged the graduates with using their expertise to unite the "fractured nation" and restore trust in science.
In an exclusive interview with The State News ahead of the ceremony, Fauci shared why it’s important for him to speak to young academics and how he hopes they’ll put their education to use.
As Fauci rose to national prominence as the face of the nation’s COVID-19 response, he garnered praise from some and steep opposition from others, in a period he calls the “era of normalization of untruths.” He sees it in everyday skepticism of science, and in government, with “politicians who should know better” saying “absolutely outlandish things.”
That distrust is precisely what drove him to speak to MSU’s grads today.
“You’re almost inured to pushing back,” Fauci said. “There’s so much untruth going on that people kind of shrug their shoulders and say ‘well, that’s the way it is’ … so it’s all the more reason for someone like me to utilize the arena, get in front of students, and give a good message, even if it’s only 10 or 15 minutes.”
Engineering Doctorate Recipient Ritam Ganguly said it meant a lot to hear from someone who gave him “hope and belief in science” as he followed the news of the pandemic.
Nursing doctorate recipients Caitlin Bogner and Haley Hathaway said it was meaningful to be represented by someone they saw as a “motivating factor” while completing their degrees in the midst of the pandemic.
If he was given the opportunity today’s graduates have and if he had another career ahead of him, Fauci said he would do it again, pursuing science, medicine and public service. He hopes they'll follow in his footsteps, by pursuing what they’re truly passionate about.
“If you really care about something, it endures in your energy,” Fauci said. “If you do something because people think that’s what you should be doing, because it sounds nice, you gotta ask yourself ‘how doI feel about it?’”
He said that no matter the career, “if you’re not passionate about it, you’re not going to be very good at it and you’re going to get tired of it pretty quick.”
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