Commencement 2021: Michigan doctor who uncovered Flint water crisis to give URI commencement address

Mona Hanna-Attisha, M.D., M.P.H., to be granted honorary doctor of science degree

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Mona Hanna-Attisha, M.D., M.P.H.,
Mona Hanna-Attisha, M.D., M.P.H. Photo credit Mike Naddeo

KINGSTON, R.I. — April 1, 2021 — Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Michigan doctor who was responsible for uncovering the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which began in 2014, will give the keynote address at the University of Rhode Island’s 2021 Commencement.

The founder and director of the Michigan State University and Hurley Medical Center Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, she will also be awarded an honorary doctor of science degree for her courage in exposing the public health crisis that occurred when the city–in a cost-saving move–switched its water supply from the Detroit system to the Flint River, resulting in toxic lead contamination and coinciding outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease.

Hanna-Attisha will give her remarks and receive her honorary doctorate virtually during URI’s main Commencement ceremony that will run May 21 through May 23.  The University plans to hold in-person college ceremonies for the graduates only and a reduced number of faculty and staff at Meade Stadium.

She is one of four honorary degree recipients who will be honored by the University during the virtual main Commencement ceremony, which can be viewed on the Commencement website throughout the celebration weekend. It will include such traditional elements as the keynote and undergraduate student speaker addresses, conferral of honorary degrees, and musical performances by students.

A pediatrician, scientist, and activist, Hanna-Attisha has testified twice before Congress, was awarded the Freedom of Expression Courage Award by PEN America, and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. She has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, and countless other media outlets championing the cause of children in Flint and beyond. She is founding donor of the Flint Child Health and Development Fund.

Hanna-Attisha earned her bachelor’s and master of public health degrees from the University of Michigan and her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. She is an associate professor of pediatrics and human development at MSU’s College of Human Medicine.

Her bestselling book, What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City, is a riveting, beautifully rendered account of a disaster that became a tale of activism and hope, the story of a city that came together to fight for justice and the right to build a better world for their—and all of our—children.

“Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s remarks to our graduates and the University’s bestowing of an honorary degree on her could not come at a more important time,” President David M. Dooley said. “As some elected officials have routinely questioned the legitimate authority and expertise of scientists, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, particularly during the last year as the nation battled COVID-19 and the malignancy of false information, Dr. Hanna-Attisha has demonstrated the absolute need for courage when it comes to protecting the public’s health.

“Her ability to see the harm being done by a poisonous water system to the children she treats and a willingness to speak up led to national media attention and a reckoning for the officials who made such a callous and dangerous decision. We are honored to have her as our commencement speaker and to confer on her the degree of honorary doctor of science.”