Tom Hanks Gives Harvard Commencement, Tells Graduates to Stand Up for the Truth: ‘The Responsibility Is Yours’
Actor Tom Hanks was the keynote speaker at Harvard University’s opening on Thursday, where he urged more than 9,000 members of the Class of 2023 to fight for the truth and stand up to those who stand against it oppose.
Speaking to the school’s new graduates at Harvard Yard’s Tercentennial Theater, Hanks said society has changed the way it views truth and claimed some people no longer see its value.
“Every day, every year, and for every promotion, there is a choice to be made, the same choice for all adults: to be one of three types of Americans – those who embrace freedom for all, those who do not won’t, or those who are indifferent,” Hanks said.
He added: “Only the former do the work of creating a more perfect union.”
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The two-time Oscar winner paired his speech with a number of superhero references – the genre of which has become mainstream in Hollywood – to suggest that it’s up to ordinary people to act extraordinary.
“We’re all in a cage match, a mixed martial arts battle royale with agents of brazen intolerance and incompetence, the malevolent equals of the Imperial stormtroopers, Lex Luther and Loki. And we could use a superhero right now,” Hanks said, the Harvard Gazette reports.
“There is no Superman, or anyone else in his Justice League,” he added. “In the endless battle you all officially joined from today, the difference is in how you truly believe, how vehemently you promote, how strong you cling to the truth that is obvious: that of course we are all created the same but differently, and of course we are all in the same boat.”
Hanks said the struggle for truth was “not fair” but encouraged graduates not to “be embittered by this fact”.
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“We can all complain about The Man, and we all have debts that we have to pay, and we all have a right to a day off. But the work that needs to be done is the building of our ‘more perfect union,’ “, he said, according to the Gazette. “This work will never, ever be done, a work that requires rigorous attention and unstinting means and all hands. The work is the fulfillment of the promises of our promised land, the practice of decency, the protection of the freedom and the promotion of freedom for all, without exception.It takes hard work on many fronts every day, and you can call each of them a battle for truth, justice and the American Way.
Hanks, who received an honorary doctorate of arts from the school, also said some people in public service use the truth as a malleable medium.
“For some, truth is no longer empirical. It’s no longer based on data, or common sense, or even common decency,” the iconic actor said. “Telling the truth is no longer the benchmark for public service. It is no longer the balm for our fears, nor the guide to our actions. The truth is now considered malleable, by public opinion and by sum finals nothing.”
And: “The responsibility is yours. Ours. The effort is optional. But the truth, the truth is sacred. Unalterable. Chiseled in stone and the foundation of our republic.”
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In his remarks, Hanks also referenced fictional Harvard professor Robert Langdon, whom he portrayed in three films in “The Da Vinci Code” series.
Hanks said: “Now, without having done any work, without having spent any time in class, without having even once entered this library – in order to have anything to do with the promotion of Harvard, its faculty or his distinguished alumni – I make a good living playing someone who did it”,
Hanks starred in three movies based on Dan Brown’s books: “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels & Demons,” and “Inferno.”
On a lighter note, the actor referenced the Bible at the end of his speech, “May goodness and mercy follow you always. All the days of your life. To God.”
Larry Bacow, president of Harvard, also attended the opening. It was his last before he resigned at the end of June. He was president of the school for five years.
“I’ve never met anyone who thinks the world we live in is perfect,” said Bacow, who received a standing ovation after his remarks. “This statement is equally true for liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and those of all political backgrounds. So if you think this world is imperfect, the only way to get better is for good people as you work to fix it. It is now your responsibility.”
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Claudine Gay, currently dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, will become the next president on July 1.
Harvard University is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.