Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is seen during the House Committee on Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies hearing, about the budget request for the National Institutes of Health, Tuesday, May 17, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

BRISTOL, R.I. (AP) — Dr. Anthony Fauci urged graduates of Roger Williams University on Friday to fight what he called the “normalization of untruths,” which has become a growing and more troubling problem during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and the face of the federal government’s response to the coronavirus, was the commencement ceremony’s keynote speaker but addressed students at the private Rhode Island college remotely because he had to attend a memorial service for a family member.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have experienced firsthand something that has troubled and saddened me — a deepened divisiveness in our nation,” he said. “Unfortunately, differences of opinion or ideology are propped up by deliberate distortions of reality to the point of fabrications, conspiracy theories, and outright lies.”

He told the students to apply the analytic skills they have learned during their time at the university to challenge and renounce untruths, which he called a threat to the nation.

“Reject the politicization of science that denigrates evidence and facts,” he said.

Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases who has advised eight presidents, was one of four people to receive an honorary degree during commencement exercises at the school located in Bristol.

The pandemic has also laid bare and exacerbated health inequities experienced by some members of society, including Black and Indigenous populations, said Fauci.

“Let not our collective memory of the health inequities revealed during this pandemic fade, rather let it motivate us to undertake the long-term commitment that will be required to address the root causes of health disparities,” he said. “I strongly urge you to be part of that effort.”

The pandemic has also shown the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration, he said. It was that collaboration which led to “a truly unprecedented accomplishment” — the development and authorization of effective COVID-19 vaccines within a year of the virus being identified, vaccines that he said have saved tens of millions of lives worldwide.

The others to receive honorary degrees were U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins; Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island John N. McConnell, Jr.; and retired state Supreme Court Associate Justice Francis X. Flaherty.