Commencement Celebrity: Tom Hanks to Address Graduates

The actor and filmmaker will be Harvard’s guest speaker on May 25.

Tom Hanks

Actor-filmmaker Tom Hanks will be the honored guest speaker at Harvard’s Commencement this May 25, the University announced today. Known for comedic roles in SplashBig, and A League of Their Own, he won Academy Awards for best actor for his dramatic performances in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. His other credits range from Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail to Apollo 13 and voicing Woody in Toy Story. He collaborated with Steven Spielberg, Ar.D. ’16, on several films, and has won multiple Emmy Awards for producing numerous limited series and television movies such as Band of Brothers and John Adams. His debut novel, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece, is being published May 9. Summing the guest up in broad terms, the University announcement described him as an “actor, writer, filmmaker, humanitarian, and typewriter enthusiast” (the latter featuring in the 2017 documentary, California Typewriter). He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

In making the announcement, President Lawrence S. Bacow said in a statement, “A true master of his craft, Tom Hanks has given life to some of the most compelling, beloved, and iconic characters on the screen. Over five decades, he has entertained, enlightened, and befriended us. He has made us laugh, cry, question, and think. In addition to his brilliance as an actor, Tom has demonstrated both an innate empathy and a deep understanding of the human condition. He has contributed to our national culture and expanded our ability to appreciate stories and histories that have been previously unexamined. I very much look forward to his address in May.”

Hanks has been active in supporting the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., and is a long-time advocate for AIDS awareness and research, among other philanthropies.

Welcoming Hanks as Commencement guest speaker represents something of a star turn in Bacow’s choices as he concludes his presidency June 30. Against a backdrop of domestic and international political and cultural challenges, the four previous speakers have been known for, and have chosen to speak about, pressing public issues: German chancellor Angela Merkel (2019, on major international matters and overcoming constraints on freedom); Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron (2020, on mis- and disinformation); Prairie View A&M President Ruth J. Simmons, Ph.D. ’73, LL.D. ’02 (2021, on racial inequity and higher education); and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (2022, on fractured politics and social media).

By selecting Hanks, the University has turned toward a widely known cultural figure at a time of continuing polarization in the wider society. That perhaps promises a different kind of graduation address by a Commencement speaker whose career has engaged and delighted audiences from across the spectrum of political and cultural perspectives.

Other speakers announced to date include the Phi Beta Kappa poet and orator, Natalie Diaz and Adam Falk, and the Radcliffe Institute medalist, Ophelia Dahl. No word yet on the College Class Day speaker or the Harvard Alumni Day guest headliner.

Read the University announcement about Hanks here.

Read more articles by: John S. Rosenberg

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