Watch Tom Hanks Give a Surprise Commencement Speech at Wright State's Virtual Graduation

Annie Goldsmith
Photo credit: Courtesy Wright State
Photo credit: Courtesy Wright State

From Town & Country

It's clear that, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the class of 2020 will face unprecedented circumstances in their post-grad lives. Graduates have already been impacted by these changes, as their final semesters were cut short and their graduations moved online. While a virtual commencement is disappointing for many, in consolation, students at Ohio's Wright State University received a message from none other than Tom Hanks.

The Academy Award-winning actor has a special relationship with Wright State, as he was honored with the school's Tom Hanks Center for Motion Pictures in 2016. For the university's virtual commencement, Hanks sent a video message to graduates with some words of wisdom and support. Hanks himself understands the impact of COVID-19, as he was one of the first public figures to contract the virus. He and his wife, Rita Wilson, who both tested positive, have since fully recovered.

The beloved actor began his speech with words of encouragement, applicable to any graduation. He congratulated students on completing their studies and surpassing possible challenges.

"There is something about you, in your background, in your upbringing, in your conscious memories, in your ongoing mysteries—something that has driven you to complete your courses and achieve your selected challenges and cross the rubicon of your time there, your studies at Wright State," Hanks said.

Throughout the speech, Hanks referred to the class of 2020 as "the chosen ones," since, due to the pandemic, this graduating class faces challenges unlike any one prior. As Hanks stated, these students' lives will forever be bookmarked as before COVID-19 and after.

"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."

He continued, "Part of your lives will forever be identified as 'before,' in the same way other generations tell time like 'that was before the war, or 'that was before the internet,' or 'that was before Beyoncé.' The word 'before' is going to carry great weight with you."

Despite referencing the "before," Hanks discussed the "during"—our current moment. He thanked graduates for their sacrifices and noted the import of these choices.

"You’ve gone from being student to graduate when more has been expected of you than just to be an American," Hanks said. "You have had to be responsible Americans, you’ve had to be good Americans—good Americans who made the sacrifices that have saved lives."

Hanks also looked ahead, to the end of the pandemic and the new obstacles graduates will face. He also noted the great opportunity and responsibility that comes along with these challenges.

"You’ll have made it through the time of great sacrifice and great need, and no one will be more fresh to the task of restarting our measure of normalcy than you, you chosen ones," Hanks said.

The actor concluded his message with words of encouragement. He stated his faith in the class of 2020 and hope for the future.

"Now, the future is always uncertain, but we who celebrate what you have done, who celebrate all of your achievements, we are certain of one thing on this day," Hanks said. "You will not let us down."

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