Tom Hanks is providing some words of wisdom to the class of 2023. On Thursday, the 66-year-old actor delivered the commencement address at Harvard University, and channeled his signature wit and expert storytelling while doing so.
Hanks began by playfully offering a bit of a dig at the graduating class, telling them, "It's not fair, but please don't be embittered by this fact: that 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, I make a damn good living playing someone who did. It's the way of the world, kids."
Hanks, of course, was alluding to his role as Robert Langdon, a Harvard University professor of religious iconology and symbology, in The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and Inferno.
Hanks continued by addressing his mere semesters at community state college, his attendance at the School of Hard Knocks, and joking, "I don't know much about Latin, I have no real passion for enzymes, and public global policy is something I scan in the newspaper just before I do the Wordle. And yet here I am."
There he was indeed, and thus began the crux of his speech; superheroes aren't real and won't do the hard work of saving our planet, instead, that's up to us.
"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," he 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."
Hanks continued by acknowledging that "we all have special powers and abilities far beyond the reach of other mortals" -- everything from handyman skills to patience around children to academic prowess -- all of which make us uniquely qualified to save 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 said, before noting that that work "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."
That work, Hanks said, is figuring out "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 color, our chosen deities, or who we love."
"All of us, no exceptions," Hanks said, "are entitled the the unalienable rights of liberty and freedom because we live in the United States of America."
Hanks went on to dub the class of 2023 as "newly incorporated members of the Justice League of Avengers," and urge them "to come to the rescue" of truth, which, to some, is no longer based on "common sense, nor even common decency."
"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."
The "nemesis" of truth, Hanks said, is indifference, as it "will make moot all the permanence found in truth."
"Indifference will rust away the promise of our promised land," he said. "Propaganda and bald-faced lies will erode over time. Idolatry and imagery lose luster and effect. Ignorance and intolerance can be replaced by experience in the wink of an eye, but indifference will narrow the vision of America's people and may dim the light of Lady Liberty's symbolic torch."
"Indifference makes citizens into indentured servants held in labor 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," Hanks added. "So weary that they lose hope and are left to yearn to be saved by the fiction of superheroes."
Hanks urged the graduates to be the type of Americans "who embrace liberty and freedom for all" in order to 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," Hanks said. "If we do the work, justice and the American way are within our grasp, no matter our gender, our faith, our station, our heritage or genetic makeup, the shade and hue of our flesh, or the continental birthplace of our ancestors."
"Why is that truth so hard for some to accept, much less respect?" he questioned. "If you live in the United States of America, 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. "
Hanks concluded his speech by declaring us "all uniquely, magnificently, simply, human," and telling the graduates, "May goodness and mercy follow you all the days, all the days of your lives."
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