Address by Dr. David D. Ho

Presented by J. Michael Chu ’80, trustee, for the honorary degree Doctor of Science

unedited transcript

Good morning President Hansen, trustees and faculty. To the graduates and their families and friends: my heartfelt congratulations.

I am here today because I have been given a great deal of praise of key advances made in AIDS research. However, achievement in research seldom belongs to a single individual. Science is a richly collaborative endeavor, and my personal recognition is merely symbolic for the many important discoveries made by a cadre of talented scientists in the field. As Newton aptly put it, “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon shoulders of giants.”

I feel extremely privileged to work on HIV/AIDS. As a young physician in 1981, I was fortunate enough to witness the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Over the course of a year, young men, one after the other, presented to the hospital with a multitude of infections leading to death within days and weeks. Their medical histories strongly suggested the possibility of a transmissible agent that caused the destruction of the immune system. Yet any description of a similar syndrome was nowhere to be found. The disease was obviously new; in this manner, AIDS appeared insidiously and mystified doctors and scientists alike. No one could have predicted that 25 years later we would face a global pandemic that is arguable the worst plague in human history.

For a biomedical scientist, what could represent a greater opportunity than to conduct research on a microbe that threatens the health of our planet? Class of 2006: As you move on in life, be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that are bubbled up by serendipity and then have the courage and conviction in pursuing your goals and ideals.

Let me humbly share a few other thoughts with the graduates. In our attempts to combat HIV, I have learned that any success in any endeavor requires bold decision making and willingness to take informed risks. As so eloquently stated by Harold Shapiro, formerly of Princeton, “an excessive zeal to avoid all risk is, in the end, an acceptance of mediocrity and the abdication of leadership.” You must take on the toughest challenges. I view it as the greatest opportunity, for every noble work is at first seemingly impossible.

Graduates: Always maintain a deep commitment to excellence. Stay in the forefront of your chosen field, and never permit the quality of your work to be compromised. Stay young at heart, but should you need to grow, do not suppress your individuality and insist on conformity. Continue to let imagination and creativity percolate throughout your lives.

Recently, I have reflected on the contribution of my heritage to my career. For were it not for the profound Asian respect for scholarship, a scientist I might not be today. Moreover, values of drive and dedication imprinted during early childhood have continued to serve me well. In any culture, there is simply no substitute for hard work.

I have been an American for so long that I often forget that I am also an immigrant. From time to time, I could sense the desire the burns in the belly of a new immigrant ­­— the desire to carve out a place in this land of opportunities. To this day, I maintain an underdog mentality that motivates me to a higher level of work ethic.

Throughout its history, America has continually benefited from the drive, labor and creativity of immigrants. Thus today, one prevailing view that they constitute a constant drain on our society is baseless and shameful especially in the nation of immigrants [applause].

Graduates: As you move on, you will, on occasion, be underappreciated, under-recognized, or underpaid by our society. Take solace and satisfaction in knowing that your work has helped to build a better, safer and healthier world, a world with hope. Members of the graduating class: Any one of you can cast a giant shadow on our planet. As Margaret Mead so nicely stated: “Never doubt that a small group of committed can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Congratulations again, and do thank your parents.