Tom Hanks offered nothing but wisdom and the truth while delivering a keynote address to Harvard University’s graduating class of 2023 on Thursday.
The actor, who famously starred as a Harvard professor named Robert Langdon in 2006’s “The Da Vinci Code” and its two sequels — “Angels & Demons” (2009) and “Inferno” (2016) — kicked things off by poking fun at his lack of credentials in comparison to the graduating class.
“It’s not fair, but please don’t be embittered by this fact,” Hanks, 66, began. “Now, without having done a lick of work, without having spent any time in class, without once walking into that library — in order to have anything to do with the graduating class of Harvard, its faculty, or its distinguished alumni — I make a damn good living playing someone who did.
“It’s the way of the world, kids,” he added as the audience erupted with laughter.
Hanks attended community state college where he was awarded an honorary doctor of arts degree.
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The “Cast Away” star carried on by diving into the main point of his speech — superheroes are fictional but humans have the power to save the planet — while of course embracing his signature wit and storytelling skills.
“We, here, in the stands look at you all in the caps and the gowns and we hope, ah, at last, help is on the way. Somewhere matriculating today is a man of iron, a woman of steel, a super human, just in the nick of time,” Hanks said. “This is not because we have failed in our duties or are completely spent. We have done some very super things over our generation. It’s because we are all in a cage match, mixed martial arts battle royale, with agents of hubris, apathy, intolerance, and brain incompetence, the malevolent equals to Imperial stormtroopers, Lex Luther and Loki, and we could all use a superhero right now.”
He acknowledged that “we all have special powers and abilities far beyond the reach of other mortals” — from handyman skills to patience around children to academic expertise and everything in between — which all make us uniquely capable of saving the world.
“Still, we’d like to look up in the sky and see not a bird, not a plane, but, well, someone who’s young and strong and super, who will fight the never-ending battle for truth, for justice, and for the American way, someone who will take on that work,” he continued, noting that “that work” he’s referring to “is the keeping of the promises of our promised land; the practice of decency, the protection of freedom, and the promotion of liberty for all with no exceptions.”
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That work is solving “how to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure those blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity” no matter “our gender, our race, our creed, our colour, our chosen deities, or who we love,” Hanks went on.
He then dubbed the class of 2023 “newly incorporated members of the Justice League of Avengers,” and urged them “to come to the rescue” of truth, which he said, “to some is no longer empirical, no longer based on data, nor common sense, nor even common decency.”
Hanks continued to speak about “truth” in length, which is Harvard’s motto but in latin — “veritas.”
“Truth is now considered malleable by opinion and by zero sum end games. Imagery is manufactured with audacity, with purpose, to achieve the primal task of marring the truth with mock logic, to achieve with fake expertise, with false sincerity,” he said. “Now literally you cannot believe your eyes, and your ears will help others lie to you.”
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The two-time Academy Award winner urged the 9,000+ graduates at Harvard’s 372nd commencement to “embrace liberty and freedom for all” so that they can help create “a more perfect union, a nation indivisible.
“The difference is in how truly you believe and how vociferously you promote and how tightly you hold to the truth that is self-evident. That, of course, we are all created equally, yet differently. And, of course, we are all in this together,” he said, questioning: “Why is that truth so hard for some to accept, much less respect?
“The responsibility is yours, ours. The effort is optional, but the truth, the truth is sacred, unalterable, chiseled into the stone of the foundation of our republic. All of us are able, none of us are super. We are the Americans; liberty and justice is for us all.”
The Hollywood icon concluded his speech by wishing the graduates well.
“May goodness and mercy follow you all the days,” he said, referencing a biblical verse. “All the days of your lives. Godspeed.”