By Ava-joye Burnett

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The future is bright for hundreds of students at the University of Maryland Baltimore who graduated on Thursday.

After two years of online celebrations, the graduations at the University of Maryland Baltimore graduations have returned to in-person ceremonies.

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At the height of the pandemic, some of these students stepped up and volunteered at vaccination clinics.

Their graduation speaker, one of the leading voice in the fight against COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci told graduates to never stop learning.

Dr. Fauci told graduates to live a life of service and integrity and to expect the unexpected.

“You are at a period in your lives where you have the potential to do almost anything and so please keep an open mind and do not shy away from dreaming impossible dreams and seizing upon on anticipated opportunities,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“We were all virtual and it was kind of uncertain how it was going to proceed from there but to be here in person today, especially with Dr. Fauci, the, the leader who got us through much of this pandemic,” said graduate Alex Burinsky.

“It’s really incredible to be here and enjoying this moment that we’ve made it through,” said Morgan Lee, who earned a doctorate in nursing and whose younger brother is now in medical school. “I’m just happy to get out there and start helping our community.”

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“I am immensely proud I am the first person in my family to receive a doctorate of medicine. I truly have my family and friends to thank and it’s just such a proud moment for all of us,” said Jennifer Drechsler, who will go on to residency in New York.

Many of these graduates played a key role during the pandemic, volunteering thousands of hours to help at vaccine clinics.

“I felt great because I was able to help during that time that energy pays off pandemic,” said Nasim Mavahebitabatabaei, who graduated from the School of Pharmacy.

This graduation, like many others, is also a moment for families who have been there and sacrificed along the way.

“Yeah, I’m very proud of my baby girl, don’t get me crying now,” said Frederick M. Lee.

I didn’t think I’d have to go through it twice,” added Dr. Rashef, a pediatric dentist whose husband left the world of finance to follow in her footsteps. “We’ve been through it twice now and I’m so proud of him that he graduated and he’s going to do his pediatric residency.”

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Dr. Fauci himself also received an honorary degree. His wife Dr. Christine Grady, who is a nurse-bioethicist, also received an honorary degree.

Ava-joye Burnett