ATLANTA - Not all graduates of Emory College of Arts and Sciences are future medical professionals or scientists, majors in biology or chemistry. However, the commencement address from the nation's most prominent infectious disease expert was inclusive and applicable to the musicians, statisticians and other graduates had a message for everyone.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, provided the Emory College of Arts and Sciences commencement keynote address on Saturday virtually from Washington, D.C.
Fauci told graduates that not all of them will literally go on to careers in public service, but the fundamentals of public service are broadly applicable. Fauci told graduates to expect the unexpected and seize challenges and relative opportunities when they arise.
"Public service does not have to mean a profession or avocation devoted entirely to public service," Fauci said. "Public service can be incorporated into your lives, regardless of career choice."
Fauci said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted disparities in society because of the disease's effect on minority populations because of the nature of the jobs they have as essential workers. . Fauci said COVID-19 caused a higher percentage of severe cases in minorities because of prevalent comorbidities in minority Americans related to the social determinants of health linked to disadvantageous conditions in society.
"Righting this wrong will be a decades-long commitment," Fauci said. "I strongly urge you to be part of that commitment."
Fauci said the "new normal" may not look the same as the world prior to January 2020, but he called on graduates to help shape the new normal.
"I have great faith that your generation will be one that makes great change happen," he said.
Fauci emplored graduates to find their source of joy and happiness and fully embrace it.
Fauci also accepted the Emory University President’s Medal.
Fauci has served as director of the NIAID since 1984, but became a spokesperson for the U.S. government's response and guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Fauci was involved in the response to health crises for nearly 30 years, including HIV, SARS, MERS, Ebola and the nation’s 2001 experience with bioterrorism — the anthrax attacks.
Fauci received an honorary degree from Emory University in 2003.
"I cannot think of a more inspiring person than Dr. Fauci to address the Class of 2021, whose Emory experience has been so dramatically shaped by the pandemic, and whose resilience and determination have inspired us again and again," Emory President Gregory L. Fenves said in a statement. "During the past year, Dr. Fauci’s name has become synonymous with truth, clarity and medical expertise. As chief physician to our country in the midst of a pandemic, he has become one of the most trusted voices in medicine for millions of Americans, and we are excited to honor him as part of Emory’s 176th Commencement."
Because of the pandemic, the nine schools and colleges that make up Emory University are holding individual ceremonies starting Friday continuing through Sunday at the Georgia World Congress Center.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Download the FOX 5 Atlanta app for breaking news and weather alerts.