NEW CLASS OF ’22 MEMBER: Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke to members of the Princeton University Class of 2022 at Princeton’s Class Day celebration on Monday, May 23, and he was inducted as an honorary member of the class. He poses with Class Day Co-Chairs, from left, Sarah Lee, Julia Chaffers, and Christian Potter. (Photo by Princeton University)
By Donald Gilpin
Emphasizing the challenges of “the failings in our society” and “our divided nation,” Dr. Anthony Fauci urged about 1,200 Princeton University seniors, along with families and friends gathered on Cannon Green on May 23, to commit to fighting injustice “and work with all our might to remedy the cultural disease of racism, just as we fight the viral disease of COVID-19.”
Fauci was selected by the Class of 2022 as keynote speaker at the University’s first in-person Class Day since 2019. Chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and the leader of the White House COVID-19 task force, Fauci is also director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. He has advised seven presidents on health issues and in 2008 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Fauci pointed out lessons learned from the pandemic. “Our country’s experience with COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on one of the great failings in our society: the lack of health equity.”
He continued, “Many members of minority groups are at increased risk of COVID-19 simply because the jobs they have as essential workers do not allow them to isolate from social activity. More importantly, when people in minority groups are infected with the coronavirus, they have a much greater likelihood of developing a severe consequence due to elevated rates of underlying conditions … that lead to an increased risk of hospitalization and death.”
Emphasizing the effects of “the undeniable racism that persists in our society,” Fauci called on his audience for a promise that ”the tragic reality of the inequities experienced with COVID-19 does not fade after we return to our new normal.”
He went on to point out that in his extensive career in Washington he has experienced firsthand “the intensity of the divisiveness in our nation” and the “egregious distortions of reality” that have at times accompanied that divisiveness.
“Sadly, elements of our society have grown increasingly inured to a cacophony of falsehoods and lies that often stand largely unchallenged, ominously leading to an insidious acceptance of what I call the ‘normalization of untruths,’” he said.
He exhorted his audience, “It is our collective responsibility not to shrug our shoulders and sink to a tacit acceptance of the normalization of untruths. Because if we do, lies become dominant and reality is distorted. And then truth means nothing, integrity means nothing, facts mean nothing.”
He encouraged the seniors to use the abilities of critical analysis that they had developed at Princeton “to discern and challenge weak assertions built on untruths.” He added, “As future leaders in our society, we are counting on you for that.”
Noting that years from now “it will be clear that COVID left an indelible mark on you and your entire generation,” Fauci praised the prospective graduates for their “extraordinary adaptability, resilience, and dedication to learning, completing your studies, and graduating despite immense difficulties and uncertainties.”
After concluding his speech by calling on the seniors to embrace the joyousness of life, Fauci traded his suit jacket for an orange and black class jacket and was officially inducted as an honorary member of the Princeton University Class of 2022.