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Tom Hanks smiles at a press event

Tom Hanks Receives Honorary Harvard Doctorate, Urges Grads to Defend the Truth

Tom Hanks has received an honorary doctorate from Harvard University, and he’s used his moment on stage to highlight the importance of defending the truth.

The actor, who received a doctorate of arts for his wide-reaching contributions to the film industry, opened his commencement speech by joking that he managed to receive the degree “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, Harvard, its faculty, or its distinguished alumna!”

He added, “I make a damn good living playing someone who did. It’s the way of the world, kids!” referring to his onscreen role as Robert Langdon, a Harvard professor in The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and Inferno. 

He then went on to encourage the 9,000 graduates before him to channel “superheroes” in defence of the truth, and to stand up to those who attempt to twist it for their own gain:

“We all have special powers and abilities far beyond the reach of other mortals,” he said, explaining it’s up to each person to use those powers well.

“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.”

Further explaining his point, he said the 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.”

He described the graduates as  the”newly incorporated members of the Justice League of Avengers,” who must fight for the truth because it is “no longer empirical. It’s no longer based on data, nor common sense, nor even common decency.”


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“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 and by zero sum endgames.”

He added that indifference is equally damaging: “Indifference makes citizens into indentured servants held in labour by the despots and tyrants whose default setting is cynicism, who outlaw dissent, and ban art and dialogue and books, who grab the power any way they can, enabled by the subterfuge of their co-conspirators, rewarding the rationale of the complicit, and surging into the vacuum caused by the indifference of a people who have been made weary by struggle. So weary that they lose hope and are left to yearn to be saved by the fiction of superheroes.”

Tom closed his address be reminding the graduates they are “all uniquely, magnificently, simply, human.”

Check out his full speech here.

(Feature Image Credit: Tinseltown/Shutterstock)

Nehal is an award-winning news presenter, author of "A Kids Book About Kindness Online" and founder of CelebrityKind. She has dedicated her career to creating connected and healthy spaces in the media. When she's not writing, you'll find Nehal hanging with family, dancing to Beyoncé, interpreting Taylor Swift lyrics or watching old eps of Oprah.