Tom Hanks’ commencement speech: you started before the great pandemic


Tom Hanks is kind of the celebrity spokesperson for COVID-19. He was the first major celebrity to announce his diagnosis and, thankfully, to survive it. He made sure his healthy self was front and center to give people hope and then he and Rita donated plasma to assist others suffering in healing. So it makes sense that he is one of the first virtual commencement speaker for the graduating COVID-Class of 2020. Tom filmed his speech on Facebook Live for Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio and called the graduates “the chosen ones” to lead by example in a post-pandemic era.

With the coronavirus pandemic canceling in-person graduation ceremonies across the US, students are feeling robbed of one of life’s biggest moments. But leave it to America’s dad, Tom Hanks, to uplift spirits.

The Oscar-winning actor delivered an inspiring message to the graduating class of Ohio’s Wright State University during a virtual ceremony on Saturday. During the five-minute video, Hanks congratulated the graduates and called them the “chosen ones.”

“I am calling you ‘chosen ones’ because you have been chosen in many ways,” Hanks said. “First, by the temperament and discipline you’ve lived by, by the creative fires that are inside of you and the instinctive lunges of your desires… You succeeded because of the aid and the love of others that are in your lives, without a doubt. But you have succeeded mostly because you, and you alone, chose to do so.”

“You are the chosen ones because of a fate unimagined when you began your Wright State adventures,” Hanks said. “You started in the olden times, in a world back before the Great Pandemic of 2020. You will talk of those earlier years in your lives in just that way.”

“You will be enlightened in ways your degree never held in promise. You will have made it through a time of great sacrifice and great need. No one will be more fresh to the task of restarting our normalcy than you — our chosen ones,” the 63-year-old star added.

Hanks has had a long-standing relationship with WSU. In 2016, he visited the school to dedicate the Tom Hanks Center for Motion Pictures, and has also helped lead a fundraising campaign that raised more than $167 million for the school.

“The future is always uncertain,” Hanks said when concluding his virtual speech. “But we who celebrate what you have done, who celebrate all of your achievements, we are certain of one thing on this day: You will not let us down.”

[From CNN]

The speech (embedded below) struck just the right tone. It sounds like an awful lot of pressure on the graduates of today, but Tom is absolutely correct that a giant line has been drawn across the history books from here on out. Last year was Pre-Pandemic and when we emerge, all of our history will become Post-Pandemic. It is almost impossible to know what the landscape of Post-Pandemic will look like, but we must prepare for life as we know it being forever altered. And those emerging from colleges around the world will be our Post-Pandemic leaders. Good luck, you guys.

I’ve talked a lot about the missed graduations of 2020, which is weird because I don’t have anyone in my family that’s missing out, nor did I have any desire to attend any of my own graduation ceremonies. But as I have said before, I very much recognize graduation as a huge accomplishment. I didn’t attend my cermonies, but I commemorated having graduated in my own way. However, I might’ve actually attended a virtual graduation, or at least tuned in for the speeches. I ‘attended’ the SGN graduation last Sunday. We may be forging the path for how people celebrate rituals and ceremonies in the future, allowing many people who might not have the opportunity a chance to participate.

Here is Tom’s full address:




Photo credit: Twitter, Instagram and WENN/Avalon

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4 Responses to “Tom Hanks’ commencement speech: you started before the great pandemic”

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  1. Esmom says:

    “We may be forging the path for how people celebrate rituals and ceremonies in the future, allowing many people who might not have the opportunity a chance to participate.”

    I think this is absolutely true and maybe one of the only silver linings of this era. I work for a non-profit that supports individuals with disabilities and prior to this all of our programming was done in person, and “conventional wisdom” dictated that virtual programming wouldn’t work. Well, the virtual programs we developed super quickly are hugely popular. Not having to deal with transportation is a game-changer for many of our folks.

    Lovely, thought-provoking and uplifting post. Thanks!

  2. Austengirl1975 says:

    Love Tom Hanks! I teach at this university, and we’re so grateful to Tom Hanks for his championing of our great institution! He’s great friends with one of our faculty members, who gave Tom his first off-broadway role when he was just getting started decades ago. Tom Hanks has visited campus and founded a center focused on motion pictures.

    Hannah Beachler (Oscar winner for Production Design on Black Panther) is an alum from our Motion Pictures program, as are Julia Reichert and Stevan Bognar, who just won an Oscar for Best Documentary for American Factory. Within a week of winning the Oscar, they met with all of the students from that program and passed around their Oscars for the students to hold and take pictures with. We’re a regional university with open enrollment that mostly serves commuter students, but we’ve got world-class faculty and hardworking students.

    • Anna says:

      This is so awesome to hear! Thank you for sharing. There are a lot of institutions with connections but this sounds like both Hanks and the school really work to provide important opportunities that matter so that students feel affirmed. It seems like an inclusive and supportive atmosphere. I really appreciate this.

  3. a reader says:

    …and now I’m bawling over my first cup of coffee just reading these snippets. They’re just perfect.

    Perhaps I’ll watch the entire thing later today when I’m emotionally prepared.