Courtesy of Michael Greenwood

Anthony Fauci is set to speak at the Yale School of Public Health Commencement ceremony. 

YSPH Dean Sten Vermund wrote in an email to the YSPH class of 2021 on Nov. 20 that Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will be the Commencement speaker for the ceremony. The event will take place on May 24, and the decision about whether it will be held virtually or in person is forthcoming. 

“I am delighted to share that your ‘first choice’ 2021 Yale School of Public Health Commencement speaker will be the nation’s prominent leader during the novel coronavirus pandemic … Dr. Anthony S. Fauci,” Vermund wrote in the email.

Vermund chronicled Fauci’s career in his message. As the longest serving NIAID director in history, Fauci has advised the last six presidents on domestic and global health challenges, ranging from respiratory diseases like tuberculosis, to epidemic diseases like the Zika virus and Ebola, as well as novel diseases like COVID-19.

Department Chair of Epidemiology Albert Ko expressed his gratitude that Fauci will be addressing graduates at the spring Commencement ceremony.

“He is a truly remarkable person. … We are blessed to have him,” Ko said.

In his email, Vermund also described Fauci’s work studying HIV/AIDS at the outset of the epidemic in the United States. Fauci was appointed as director of the NIAID in 1984, just three years after the first AIDS cases were reported in the United States.

Under the Bush administration, Fauci served as one of the principal architects of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR. Since its inception, the program has invested over $85 billion in global HIV/AIDS interventions.

“He was one of the principal architects of … (PEPFAR), a program that has saved millions of lives throughout the developing world,” Vermund wrote.

However, during the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, activists frequently lambasted Fauci’s ability to spearhead the effort against the crisis.

In 1990, members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, staged a “Storm the NIH” demonstration — the culmination of years of protests demanding scientists to develop more medications for people living with HIV/AIDS and for the federal government to equitably distribute them.

Over 1,000 demonstrators marched on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland, holding signs that read, “NIH — Negligence, Incompetence and Horror.” Some of the protestors staged a “die-in” where demonstrators laid down, pretending to be dead at the feet of police officers outside of the Institute’s headquarters. Fauci wrote in an email to the News that he invited activists for dinner at his Deputy Director James Hill’s home just prior to the ‘Storm the NIH’ campaign.

“I invited activists into my office for discussions multiple times. Also, shortly before the ‘storm the NIH’ demonstration, I had dinner with several of the activists at my Deputy’s home in DC,” Fauci wrote.

YSPH assistant professor of epidemiology of microbial Diseases Gregg Gonsalves was a member of ACT UP and later co-founded the Treatment Action Group in 1992, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating HIV/AIDS research.

“I’ve known Tony since my mid-20s,” Gonsalves wrote in an email to the News. “Our relationship started off as adversarial, once leading me to call him the Frank Sinatra of AIDS … It was ‘his’ epidemic and he was going to do it ‘my way.’”

However, Gonsalves described that over the past 30 years, Fauci has become a “mentor of sorts.” When Gonsalves tested positive for HIV in 1996, he reached out to Fauci for advice. When Gonsalves applied to Yale College through the Eli Whitney Students Program in 2008, Fauci wrote him a letter of recommendation.

In the past year, Gonsalves expressed his frustration in an email to Fauci about the ineptitude of the White House Task Force in curbing the COVID-19 pandemic. Fauci returned Gonsalves’ message with a phone call, assuring the professor that he would maintain his commitment to science and evidence. Gonsalves said that Fauci has upheld this promise over the past few months, and looks forward to Fauci addressing the graduating YSPH class in the spring.  

“I am thrilled he’s going to talk at YSPH commencement,” Gonsalves wrote. 

NIAID scientists conduct research at campuses located in Bethesda, Rockville and Frederick, Maryland.

Sydney Gray | sydney.gray@yale.edu

Update, Dec. 17: This article has been updated with additional information provided to the News by Fauci.