Bristol, Rhode Island’s Roger Williams University just landed a prestigious keynote speaker for its commencement ceremony this year. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci will deliver the keynote speech and receive an honorary degree on Friday, May 20.

The Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to the president of the United States will address the undergraduate, graduate and law students graduating in the Class of 2022 with a specially designed in-person ceremony.

I got a chance to speak with Jill Rodrigues, Director of Communications and Media Relations for RWU, and here’s what she had to say about this exciting announcement.

What is taken into consideration when choosing a speaker?

Jill Rodrigues: We look for a person who embodies RWU’s values of compassionate leadership, strategic thinking, and research-driven innovation, and who has made a meaningful personal or professional contribution to the world. Serving as our nation’s guidepost during the rapidly evolving pandemic, Dr. Fauci has in every way personified RWU’s mission of being the leader “the world needs now.”

And, further, RWU pushes our students to look at problems from many different perspectives – culture, health, politics and equity are just some that apply to navigating the pandemic – and Dr. Fauci has had to do that at every step and make decisions to guide the country through a pandemic where new information is coming in daily.

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What was Dr. Fauci's reaction when he was asked to speak?

JR: We cannot speak for Dr. Fauci, but we hope that he was delighted to be part of our Commencement celebration. We were definitely thrilled when he said yes to our invitation to commemorate him as an honorary degree member at Roger Williams University.

What has the feedback been like on campus? Are students excited?

JR: Our students, faculty, and staff were excited to learn that Dr. Fauci would address our graduates and their families. There has been a lot of buzz on campus around the announcement, both for having a national leader as a keynote speaker and, also, in anticipation of a Commencement ceremony for our entire university community.

This is the first time RWU’s Commencement will honor all graduates in a single ceremony, with a main ceremony in the morning followed by individual School ceremonies. Why the change for this year?

JR: In the past, we have held separate ceremonies, one for undergraduate, one for graduate students, and another for law students. President Miaoulis stresses the fact that we are one university community so we designed our commencement in a way that lets us celebrate as one unified Hawk family, followed by individual school ceremonies that will create special, smaller celebrations for our graduates and their classmates, deans and faculty that they will remember fondly.

Over the past three years, Dr. Fauci has become a household name, and I'm sure the class of 2022 will never forget the day Dr. Fauci gave them an official send-off into the next chapter of their lives.

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