Tom Hanks called on Harvard’s 2023 graduating class to defend truth in a powerful commencement address on Thursday.
The Oscar winner, who received an honorary doctorate of arts, joked he was receiving the degree “without having done a lick of work” other than playing a Harvard professor in “The Da Vinci Code” movies.
“It’s not fair, but please don’t be embittered by this fact,” he said.
“I don’t know much about Latin. I have no real passion for enzymes, and public global policy is something I scan on the newspaper just before I do the Wordle,” Hanks said. “And yet here I am closing — closing for Josiah, Pallas, and Vic,” he quipped, referring to the three student speakers who proceeded him..
Hanks then pivoted to talking about “truth, justice and the American way.”
“Propaganda and bald-faced lies will erode over time,” Hanks said. “Idolatry and imagery lose luster and effect.”
He went on, saying, “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 make dim the light of Lady Liberty’s symbolic torch.”
Hanks told the class there are three types of Americans and that they will have to make a choice between “those who embrace liberty and freedom for all, those who won’t, or those who are indifferent.”
The difference, he, added, 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.”
“We are all but human,” Hanks said.
Hanks said that, “the truth, to some, is no longer empirical. It’s no longer based on data nor common sense nor even common decency.”
“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 said. “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.”
People “play fast and loose” with the truth, he stressed.
“Every day, every year, and for every graduating class, there is a choice to be made,” he said.
He called post-graduation “the never-ending battle you have all officially joined as of today.”
“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.