Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious disease, told Emory University graduates to embrace the unexpected, during the Emory College of Arts and Sciences graduation ceremony Sunday.
Fauci reflected on his early career and his decision to study infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health in 1968 “against the advice of many of my colleagues and mentors,” he said. At the time, public health scholars argued that “the war against infectious diseases had been won” with the creation of vaccines and antibiotics,” he said.
“I began to feel somewhat unsure and regretful to say the least of my career choice,” Fauci, White House chief medical advisor and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said. “Was I actually entering a vanishing subspecialty?”
Of course, that was not the case.
In 1981, Fauci was reading the Centers for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report when he discovered “a handful of cases of an unusual pneumonia, among gay men living in Los Angeles.”
“I remember feeling, chills, literally, up and down my spine,” Fauci said. “We were dealing with a brand new deadly infectious disease. And so, I decided right there and then, to make an abrupt turn in my career and investigate the pathogenesis of this mysterious disease that was devastating the lives of young men.”
“The emergence of the AIDS pandemic, and my decision to embrace change, transformed my professional career, if not my entire life,” he said.
Fauci encouraged graduates to lean into change and seize new opportunities in their own professions and lives.
“Obviously not every opportunity or challenge that you will encounter is going to influence your career and your lives, or be as dramatic as a frightening infectious disease outbreak,” Fauci said. “However, please believe me: You will confront the same types of unpredictable events I’ve experienced, regardless of what directions you have careers or your lives.”
“And so, expect the unexpected. When you can, meet the challenge and seize the relevant opportunities as they arise.”
Fauci drew attention to the health disparities experienced by minority groups during the Covid pandemic, and urged graduates to commit to addressing them in their lives.
Fauci also told graduates to find their source of joy and happiness and “fully embrace it.”
In 2003, Fauci received an honorary degree from Emory. At the time, he spoke to students about the importance of being “perpetual students” who are never finished learning.
“The next lesson is that you must be prepared for virgin territory, the unexpected, and great changes, even in fields that may now seem very well established,” Fauci said in 2003.