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Tom Hanks Named Harvard 2023 Commencement Speaker

Actor and filmmaker Tom Hanks will address Harvard’s 372nd Commencement in May, the University announced Tuesday.
Actor and filmmaker Tom Hanks will address Harvard’s 372nd Commencement in May, the University announced Tuesday. By Courtesy of Jordan Strauss / Invision / AP
By Miles J. Herszenhorn and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

Tom Hanks, an acclaimed actor and filmmaker, will speak at Harvard’s 372nd Commencement in May, the University announced Tuesday morning.

Hanks will address Harvard’s Class of 2023 during Commencement’s Morning Exercises, which will be held in Tercentenary Theater on May 25. Hanks will also be awarded an honorary Harvard degree during the Commencement exercises.

This year’s Commencement marks a return to the ordinary for Harvard. After in-person ceremonies for the Classes of 2020 and 2021 were canceled due to the pandemic, the University held two Commencement Exercises last year: one for the Class of 2022 and another joint ceremony for the Classes of 2020 and 2021.

A household name, Hanks is a Hollywood fixture credited for roles in nearly 100 films, most notably “Forrest Gump,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “Saving Private Ryan.” He has won two Academy Awards — out of a total of six nominations — one Golden Globe award, seven Emmy awards, and the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2014, Hanks received the Kennedy Center Honor. In 2016, former President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow called Hanks a “true master of his craft” in a press release.

“Over five decades, he has entertained, enlightened, and befriended us,” Bacow said. “In addition to his brilliance as an actor, Tom has demonstrated both an innate empathy and a deep understanding of the human condition.”

“I very much look forward to his address in May,” he added.

After winning his first Academy Award for Best Actor in “Philadelphia,” in which Hanks played a lawyer who was diagnosed with AIDS, Hanks became a longtime supporter of AIDS awareness and research.

Hanks also serves on the board of governors for the National Space Society and was awarded the Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award from the Space Foundation for his support of space exploration. He is also the campaign chair for Hidden Heroes, an organization dedicated to supporting military caregivers.

Hanks’ selection marks a departure from government officials who have recently spoken at Commencement, including Attorney General Merrick B. Garland ’74 and former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in last year’s dual Commencement ceremony. Hanks is the first person from the entertainment industry to deliver the Commencement address since filmmaker Steven Spielberg — a frequent collaborator of Hanks — spoke in 2016.

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @claireyuan33.

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