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U-M braces for protests of Fauci visit. Students brace for mixed feelings

Anthony Fauci
Anthony Fauci is the top medical expert known for leading the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Wikimedia Commons)

Update: Cheers for Dr. Fauci at comeback University of Michigan commencement

The nation’s top medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is the featured speaker next week at a University of Michigan commencement, prompting mixed feelings among some graduates and a planned protest.

U-M is hosting two commencement ceremonies this year at Michigan Stadium: Maria Shriver, a journalist and former first lady of California, will speak Saturday to this year’s graduates, while Fauci will address a May 7 “comeback ceremony” for 2020 and 2021 graduates whose commencements were curtailed due to the pandemic.

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Rick Fitzgerald, a U-M spokesperson, said the university is aware of the planned Fauci protest and will take measures to ensure the commencement is safe but would not discuss them “because to do so would make the event less secure.”

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Ross Barranco of Northville said he organized the protest because Fauci encouraged state leaders to pass mask mandates and some vaccine requirements to combat the virus. He is in need of a kidney transplant from Michigan Medicine, which began requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccination on Feb. 1 for candidates on its waitlist. 

Barranco refuses to get a vaccine and expects to be removed from the transplant list soon. U-M regent candidate Lena Epstein, who was recently endorsed by Republicans, also is planning to attend the protest.

Despite the hoopla, some graduates who spoke to Bridge Michigan said they’d skip the ceremony because Fauci is a reminder of the college experience they lost.

Morgan Saladino graduated from the U-M in 2021 and was not able to have a traditional commencement. Instead, she and her classmates gathered at Michigan Stadium, while friends and family watched the ceremony online. 

The year before, the commencement ceremony was entirely virtual.

Saladino said the university emailed her an invitation to attend the Fauci ceremony, but she will not make it. Saladino is doing research on a boat in Alaska but wouldn’t attend regardless.

“(Fauci) is a super well-known public figure, obviously a very smart guy, and I would like to hear him talk,” Saladino said. “But graduation was really weird for me. It was awful to have missed out on that. So I kind of just tried to move on and accept it and that’s what a lot of my friends tried to do which is why we're not going back for the ceremony.”

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Serena Bernal will graduate from U-M on Saturday and says her friends who graduated two years ago “may love and respect (Fauci, but), they just want to stop thinking about COVID.”

“It just sort of feels like enough is enough and to have him as the commencement speaker, as the center of COVID, it feels a bit weird to bring it all up again,” Bernal said.  

Bernal said she is thankful that she is able to have a traditional commencement ceremony.

“I’m definitely jumping at every opportunity to forget COVID as much as possible and what it was like to be in the pandemic during what should have been the best four years of my life,” Bernal said.

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