Tom Hanks.

Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Campus & Community

Tom Hanks named Class of 2023 Commencement speaker

4 min read

Oscar-winning actor, ‘a true master of his craft,’ will deliver principal address on May 25

Actor, writer, filmmaker, humanitarian, and typewriter enthusiast Tom Hanks will be the principal speaker at Harvard’s 372nd Commencement on May 25.

“A true master of his craft, Tom Hanks has given life to some of the most compelling, beloved, and iconic characters on the screen,” said Harvard President Larry Bacow. “Over five decades, he has entertained, enlightened, and befriended us. He has made us laugh, cry, question, and think. In addition to his brilliance as an actor, Tom has demonstrated both an innate empathy and a deep understanding of the human condition. He has contributed to our national culture and expanded our ability to appreciate stories and histories that have been previously unexamined. I very much look forward to his address in May.”

One of Hollywood’s most recognized and respected figures, Hanks first captivated screen audiences in the 1988 film “Big,” earning his first of six Academy Award nominations; he later won the Oscar twice in consecutive years for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump” in 1993 and 1994. Hanks is credited for roles in nearly 100 films, including “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Green Mile,” “Apollo 13,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Captain Phillips,” and the Robert Langdon trilogy, based on the Dan Brown novels, in which he plays the title character, a Harvard professor of religious symbology.

Hanks has also received some of the film industry’s highest honors, including the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award and the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He has won seven prime-time Emmy awards for his work in television and was nominated for a Tony award for his 2013 Broadway debut in “Lucky Guy.” He received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2014, and President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

In 1998, Hanks formed the production company Playtone with producer Gary Goetzman. Named for the fictional record company featured in Hanks’ screenwriting and movie directorial debut, “That Thing You Do!,” Playtone has produced nearly two dozen films, including “Cast Away,” “The Polar Express,” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.” The company’s exclusive television development partnership with HBO has led to 46 Emmy Awards and 113 Emmy Award nominations for Playtone projects.

Occasionally and affectionately referred to as “America’s Dad,” Hanks has been recognized for his focus on U.S. history, including for producing projects such as “Band of Brothers,” “The Pacific,” “John Adams,” and “From the Earth to the Moon.” “We constantly get to define ourselves as Americans,” said Hanks in a 2016 speech at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. “We may move at a slow pace, but we do have the greatest country in the world, because we are always moving toward a more perfect union.”

Outside of the studio, Hanks devotes much of his time to philanthropy and advocacy. In addition to civic education and voting activism, he has helped raise support for the national World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., and serves as the campaign chair for Hidden Heroes, raising awareness on issues military caregivers face in their work with veterans.

Following his performance in “Philadelphia” as Andrew Beckett, a lawyer with AIDS, Hanks became a longstanding advocate for AIDS awareness and supporter of amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research) and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. In March of 2020, Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, became some of the first public figures to share a COVID-19 diagnosis, practicing isolation and other public health guidance and later donating blood for vaccine research. They have also been active in fundraising for cancer research and treatment.

For his contributions and support for space exploration, Hanks was awarded the Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award from the Space Foundation. He also serves on the board of governors for the National Space Society.

Born in Concord, California, Hanks studied theater at Chabot College before enrolling at California State University in Sacramento. He has four children.

Hanks joins a list of recent Harvard Commencement speakers that includes Jacinda Ardern, former Prime Minister of New Zealand; John Lewis, the late Civil Rights activist and U.S. Representative; Steven Spielberg, filmmaker and frequent Hanks collaborator; and Ruth Simmons, president emerita of Brown, Smith, and Prairie View A&M University. He will also be awarded an honorary degree.