National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins M.D., Ph.D. will address the Class of 2021 as the keynote speaker during the university’s virtual commencement ceremony.

Collins has been a key figure in the response to COVID-19. He is the only presidentially appointed NIH director to serve more than one administration.

Appointed and sworn in as NIH director in 2009, Collins oversees the work of the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, spanning the spectrum from basic to clinical research.

He has become one of the most recognizable faces in the fight against the pandemic, possibly second only to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He is Fauci’s boss.

Collins will speak during Virginia Tech’s virtual ceremony on Friday, May 14. The event will begin at 6:15 p.m. with a pre-ceremony, and commencement exercises will begin at 6:30 p.m. To recognize the Class of 2021, the university is hosting both an online ceremony and smaller, in-person ceremonies by college. The online ceremony can be viewed online at

Before becoming one of the most prominent voices during the pandemic, Collins was known for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project. He served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at NIH from 1993-2008.

Collins is also an elected member of both the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2007, and received the National Medal of Science in 2009. 

In 2020, he was elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society and was also named the 50th winner of the Templeton Prize, which celebrates scientific and spiritual curiosity.

In addition to being a world-renowned scientist, Collins is also known for his musical talents. The guitar player and songwriter plays in a band with current and former NIH officials called The Affordable Rock’n’Roll Act.

For more information about commencement activities, including updates and ways you can participate in the virtual event, visit

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