CAS Acting Dean Lisa Leff delivered the Commencement Address for the Spring 2018 graduates.
CAS Undergraduate Student Speaker Rachel Levy Uyeda delivered an address for graduates.
Hello College of Arts and Sciences Class of 2018. I am so honored to have been chosen to speak as the representative of all of these inspiring students. In looking back at these past four years I know that my peers were my second set of professors, helping to round out lessons learned in the classroom and bring them to life in the real world.
So thank you students, families, parents, and faculty. This is an incredible moment for both the graduates and for those who helped us to get here. Happy Mother's Day, especially. Mom, I know you wanted a champagne brunch, but this is fun too, right?
I'd like to thank those who raised me who are here today: my mother and father, my Auntie Connie and Uncle Steve, my Grandma Jeanne, and my best friend and sister Kate. Thank you, these words are for you and are a reflection of all you have taught me.
The biggest thanks I owe is to the College of Arts and Sciences. It quite literally saved my life. That may sound melodramatic, but let me explain.
I arrived at AU as an insecure, self-doubting freshman struggling to deal with depression. I did not know who I was, much less what I stood for. I decided to major in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies, feminism being the only thing I was ever truly passionate about or good at.
My classes in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies introduced me to a way of thinking, about systems of inequality and injustice that showed me that what I had previously thought were personal problems, were really structural failings.
One of the first classes I took at AU was called Women's Voices Through Time. Our professor assigned an essay called Growing Up Asian in America by Kesaya E. Noda, in which she discusses being a Japanese child of post internment life in California. I read the piece once. Then I read it again. The author awoke a feeling in me that I had not encountered before: resonance. She talked about her family's history bleeding into her contemporary identity. I felt seen by her words as she struggled to define her component identities.
In preparation for this speech I uncovered the reflection I wrote at age 19 for this class: I said, "I feel as if I am stealing someone else’s story when I proclaim that my grandfather was interned or that my great-great-grandparents fled Russia and Poland during the pogroms on Jewish settlements. This is not my history, I tell myself (yet it is, I tell myself.) And suddenly, I am lost all over again."
I know that I am a different person than who I was at 19, but this feeling of being lost in myself still rings true. I felt that if I kept peeling off layers of who I was, I would eventually find the core components of my being. But like Noda, I realized that these stories and family histories were a part of me at every layer, and that peeling them away would leave me with nothing.
Reading Noda's essay was the first encounter I had with someone who publically struggled with identity in the same way I had. Her words felt vulnerable and powerful, and as I grew at AU I learned through experience that vulnerability was powerful. In telling her story, the full story, about an identity not easily categorized, her words allowed me and my peers to imagine an existence where we would not have to qualify who we were. We could just be.
Through every Women's studies class and every story a peer shared, I felt less alone and more equipped to work through my struggles.
There is a Jewish Torah verse that goes, "tze-dek tze-dek tir-dof le-ma-an" which translates to, "justice, justice, you shall pursue." There is a calling in the world now for justice. There is a growing understanding that justice is not about the individual, but about all of us.
AU taught me that we must seek justice for ourselves. But ourselves are not so narrow as we imagine. Our individual stories are connected to all of those who brought us here.
As William Faulkner said, "The past is never dead, it’s not even past." This College of Arts and Sciences Class of 2018 are continuations of opportunities, struggles, and dreams unimagined by those who came before us and not forgotten by those who will follow. It is our turn to go into the world in full acceptance of who we are and with the courage to share our stories.
Just as Noda's self-acceptance and courage helped me to find my own, now it is our turn to help others to do the same.
Thank you, and congratulations Class of 2018.
School of Education
SOE Dean Cheryl Holcomb Mccoy delivered the Commencement Address for the Spring 2018 graduates.
SOE Graduate Student Speaker Kara Elizabeth Brounstein delivered an address for graduates.
This past January I was creating a lesson to teach my 6th-grade students about Martin Luther King, Jr. We had just had Monday off from school, a day on which I was certain our entire class (myself included) lay in their pajamas and binge-watched TV shows - without giving proper acknowledgement to why we commemorate this important figure with a national holiday. I chose quotes from Dr. King to share with my students about judging others by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin, and I was touched by the important conversations that ensued in class. We talked about the fact that people still experience unfair bias due to things like race and ethnicity; but my students remarked that other prejudices exist as well. My students, (all of whom have dyslexia, ADHD, or other language-based learning disabilities), shared how they had all been discriminated against or made to feel less than because of their learning differences. They had been treated unfairly because they couldn’t read as well or as fast; understand directions; think of the right words; sit still at their desk. But I have learned that many of many children who have failed at school simply failed to learn the way they were taught – and as teachers, it is our job to discover our students’ hidden talents and gifts.
Which brings me to another important Dr. King quote that I found: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.” Our experience at American has fulfilled this goal. In my Master’s program for Special Education, I have been pushed to think more creatively than I ever have. I have come up with new, innovate strategies to teach my students while researching the most effective, evidenced-based techniques to inform my teaching practice. I have been surrounded by incredible classmates who share the same passions that I do, and by professors who are dedicated to sending fully prepared teachers out into the world to help our students. Most importantly, this program gave me the opportunity to spend the last year teaching at The Lab School of Washington, an amazing school devoted to supporting and educating students with learning differences. These students might not be the fastest readers, the quickest to think of the right words, or the best at sitting still at their desks– but they are the smartest, funniest, most interesting, and good-hearted children I have ever known. They remind us that everyone has been the “different” one at some point or another, and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. I feel more hopeful about our collective future knowing that they will grow up to be our leaders, just as I feel hopeful thinking about all of the leaders in this room right now.
To all those graduating today: American has taught us to think intensively and to think critically. We have been surrounded by professors and classmates who are filled with both intelligence and character. It is also important to note what a crucial time this is for educated women, specifically, to be entering the workforce. I also wanted to specifically acknowledge one woman, my mother, for teaching me what it means to be strong and independent, to work for what I know is right, and to never give up. Thank you for always supporting me. Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Birthday!
Finally, I am also proud to look out at all the intelligent, powerful women (and men) in this room and know that we are now prepared to take on whatever adventure life has in store for us. We are critical thinkers, fervent learners, and determined individuals – equipped with all that AU has offered us. So congratulations to the class of 2018!
Anthony S. Fauci delivered the Commencement Address for the Spring 2018 graduates on May 13 in Bender Arena.
Thank you, President Burwell, for that kind introduction. Members of the faculty; distinguished guests; family members and friends of the graduates, particularly the mothers in the audience – Happy Mother’s Day; and you, the 2018 graduating Class of American University. It is a personal pleasure and a true honor to be your commencement speaker. I am also very excited about receiving an honorary doctorate from AU. Be it known that I have been on this campus more than most any of you. I live just a few blocks away and I have been jogging through this campus early in the morning or late in the evening for the past 40 years. And so now as an honorary graduate, I will not feel as guilty using your men’s rooms. I am particularly pleased to deliver this address in this first year of the Presidency of Sylvia Burwell since we were such close partners is addressing the challenges of emerging infectious diseases during her tenure as Secretary of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration.
As I was putting my thoughts together in preparation for addressing you today, I could not help reflecting back to my own graduation from college for some hints as to what I would say that might be memorable…some quote that you might recall years from now. Well, I found that this was a fool’s errand, because I must confess that I cannot remember a word of what my college commencement speaker said or even who he or she was. And so, 30 or more years from now although you will certainly remember many of your college experiences, particularly the friends you have made, you almost certainly will not remember then what I tell you here today, no matter what I say. However, I guarantee to you that there will be a commonality of yours and my experiences, even though they are separated by decades.
And so, it is in this context that I will briefly share with you some personal reflections on issues that I have had to confront soon after graduation from college and they are still very relevant to me up to this day. I have 5 issues that I want to discuss with you, and I promise that I will do all of this in 10 minutes.
First. The paradox of graduation and the concept of the perpetual student. Since this is your graduation, it is natural for you to feel that on this day you are no longer really a student. Let me tell you that this is just an illusion. In my own case, almost immediately upon graduation from college and certainly upon graduation from medical school, I learned that my student days had actually just begun. In whatever field or career path you chose, if you are to be true to yourselves and live up to your full potential, you will live your lives as perpetual students. The scope of what you have learned here at American University and importantly what you will need to learn after you leave here is like a giant mosaic and this mosaic of your knowledge and experiences is eternally unfinished, as it should be. You will soon realize that you will never know as much as you want to or need to know, and you will find that you are participating in a dynamic process with a steep learning curve This was particularly true for me as a young physician and scientist since the consequences of getting something wrong and not being aware of something that you should have known can be serious. However, this is true to a greater or lesser degree in any career path that you chose as you will soon realize. It is this unfinished mosaic of knowledge that can serve as the catalyst to constantly improve yourself. And, this will be accompanied by the palpable excitement of continual learning. After all these years, I still derive energy and motivation from that very subtle tension, and I still marvel at how much fun the learning process is. Next...
Expect the Unexpected. This is one of the truisms that can make life quite exciting. You must be prepared at any moment to enter uncharted territory, to expect the unexpected, even in fields that seem well established. And importantly, where possible, seize unanticipated opportunities. Let me give you a personal example of the kinds of dramatic events that can occur totally beyond your control and that can profoundly impact the direction of your career and your life. In 1968, I finished my medical training in Internal Medicine at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. That very same year noted public health scholars were opining and even testifying before the United States Congress that with the advent of antibiotics, vaccines, and public health measures "The war against infectious diseases had been won" and we should focus our efforts on other areas of research and public health. As fate would have it, at that time I was on my way to begin, of all things, a Fellowship for training in Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. I remember reflecting as I drove from New York City to the NIH in Bethesda, MD, as the words of the wise pundits resonated in my mind, I felt somewhat ambivalent about my career choice, to say the least. Was I entering into a disappearing subspecialty? I sort of felt like I was going to Miami to be a ski instructor. Fortunately for my career, but unfortunately and sadly for the world, even so-called pundits are not always correct. Indeed, 13 years later in 1981, the AIDS epidemic had emerged and transformed my professional career, if not my entire life. Furthermore, 37 years following the recognition of the AIDS epidemic, we find that infectious diseases outbreaks did not stop with HIV/AIDS, for my field of infectious diseases has witnessed the continual threat of emerging and re-emerging pathogens including dengue in South America over the past decade, and the strange sounding disease called Chikungunya in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean since 2013. If that was not enough, then came the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which consumed much of my time and energy in 2014 and 2015 as well as the energy of your President Sylvia Burwell as she led the government’s response to this terrible outbreak. Then there was the 2015-2016 onslaught of Zika virus in the Americas; a relatively mild disease, yet with potentially devastating consequences for babies born of mothers infected during pregnancy.
Now, obviously, not every opportunity or challenge with which you will be presented or that will influence your careers and your lives will be as dramatic or as draconian as a frightening infectious diseases outbreak. However, please believe me that the same types of unpredictable events and circumstances that I experienced in my life and in the evolution of my career in medicine and public health are going to confront you regardless of what directions your careers and your lives take. Next...
Public service and social responsibility. I believe sincerely that regardless of our career paths, we cannot look the other way from pressing societal issues. There are still pockets of society here in our own country that are steeped in poverty, drug abuse, violence, health disparities, inadequate education, discrimination, and despair. Sadly, there are even pockets of these conditions right here in our own beautiful city. The current national opioid crisis is a stark example of this. Furthermore, in 2018 we live in a global society and we cannot turn our backs on the terrible and oftimes preventable societal burdens in certain developing nations: rampant disease, infant mortality, abject poverty, starvation, gender inequality, violence against women, and the reappearing specter of genocide. Some of you may actually devote your future careers and lives to directly addressing these societal issues. Clearly, most of you will not. For the latter, public service does not necessarily mean a profession or avocation devoted entirely to public service. One can still incorporate some element of public service into your lives regardless of your career choice. Please take this into serious consideration and make it at least part of your lives. Next...
Leadership. You are graduating from an extraordinary institution. The young men and women of American University are the future leaders of our society. But leadership is a gradual process that you have already begun when you enrolled here at AU. I speak not necessarily of officially designated leadership with a formal title, for leadership takes many forms, including, and importantly, the quiet and subtle leadership of example.
Do not believe for a moment that you are too young to begin to assume leadership roles. There is a quote that is attributed to the famous late Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. I never liked the quote as a young man myself and I like it even less now that I am no longer a young man. The quote is “Ah the pity that youth is wasted on the young”, implying that although young people have boundless energy, vigor, and potential, because they are so young, they do not appreciate these qualities nor do they take proper advantage of them. Well, ladies and gentlemen, prove Mr. Shaw wrong. Take advantage of your youth and start doing your thing right now for yourselves and for society. You do not need to wait. The activist students at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and the thousands of students whom they have inspired did not wait. Our country and the world need you. More so now than ever.
Finally, the Joy of Life. I have been speaking to you over the past few minutes about opportunity, accomplishment and responsibility, all of which have a somewhat serious air about them. I want to close with a reminder about the joy of life. Allow yourselves to cultivate this as much as you do your professional accomplishments. Different pursuits and activities provide joy in different ways to different people as you might expect. Find your source of joy and embrace it. Many of you will be in serious and important positions starting relatively soon. This is not incompatible with the fact that you have so many other things to live for and to be happy about. Reach for them and keep the sounds of your laughter alive.
Congratulations to you, to your families, and to your loved ones. Good luck and God bless you.
Anthony S. Fauci, MD
Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health
Receiving an honorary Doctor of Science degree
Dr. Fauci was appointed Director of NIAID in 1984. He oversees an extensive portfolio of basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat established infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis and malaria as well as emerging diseases such as Ebola and Zika. NIAID also supports research on transplantation and immune-related illnesses, including autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies. The NIAID budget for fiscal year 2017 was approximately $4.9 billion.
Dr. Fauci has advised five Presidents on HIV/AIDS and many other domestic and global health issues. In a 2017 analysis of Google Scholar citations, Dr. Fauci ranked as the 24th most highly cited researcher of all time.
Dr. Fauci has delivered major lectures all over the world and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest honor given to a civilian by the President of the United States) and the National Medal of Science. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of more than 1,300 scientific publications, including several textbooks.