Already one of the most decorated and acclaimed actors in film history, Tom Hanks added a new accomplishment to his résumé when he delivered the commencement address at Harvard University’s graduation on Thursday.
The two-time Oscar winner, who received an honorary doctorate of arts from the prestigious school, opened his speech with a joke about how he never had to study to get his degree, alluding to his role as fictional Harvard professor Robert Langdon in “The Da Vinci Code” movies.
“It’s not fair, but please don’t be embittered by this fact,” Hanks joked.
“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.”
Hanks, who reminded the audience that he spent two years at California’s Chabot Community and attended California State University Sacramento for two semesters, then dove into a speech that was heavy on superhero references, with multiple mentions of “truth, justice and the American way.”
“We could all use a superhero right now,” he said at one point.
The “Forrest Gump” star, who also received a volleyball from the school — a reference to Wilson in “Cast Away” — continued to focus on truth as an important part of our lives that is being threatened.
“For the truth, to some, is no longer empirical. It’s no longer based on data nor common sense nor even common decency,” he said.
“Telling the truth is no longer the benchmark for public service. It’s no longer the salve to our fears or the guide to our actions. Truth is now considered malleable, by opinion, by zero-sum end games,” he explained. “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.”
Hanks continued to hone in on the importance of truth while lamenting about how many people “play fast and loose” with it and how “indifference” is its enemy.
“Every day, every year, and for every graduating class, there is a choice to be made,” he said.
“It’s the same option for all grown-ups who have to decide to be one of three types of Americans — those who embrace liberty and freedom for all, those who won’t, or those who are indifferent. Only the first do the work of creating a more perfect union, a nation indivisible. The others get in the way.”
The actor then shared some powerful words on speaking up for what’s right.
“In the never-ending battle you have all officially joined as of today, the difference is in how truly you believe, in how vociferously you promote, in 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.
As his speech drew to a close, Hanks reminded graduates of the need to safeguard the truth.
“If you live in the United States of America, the responsibility is yours. Ours. The effort is optional, but the truth is sacred, unalterable, chiseled into the stone of the foundation of our republic,” he said.