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Tom Hanks rails against Americans who ‘don’t embrace liberty’ in rousing speech to Harvard grads

In a keynote speech to Harvard University graduates, Tom Hanks argued that Americans who don’t embrace liberty and those who remain indifferent to it are harmful to “creating a more perfect union”.

On Thursday (25 May), the Oscar-winning actor was invited to send off over 9,000 graduates at the university’s 372nd commencement ceremony.

Welcoming him on stage, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow referred to him as “Wilson’s bestie, Buzz’s buddy, Ryan’s saviour, America’s dad”, before presenting him a volleyball, in tribute to his role in Cast Away, where to stay sane, his character talks to an old volleyball.

During Hanks’s rousing speech, he invoked Harvard’s motto, “veritas”, the Latin word for truth.

“For the truth to some is no longer empirical. It's no longer based on data, nor common sense, nor even common decency," Hank said.

“Telling the truth is no longer the benchmark for public service," he said. "It’s no longer the salve to our fears, or the guide to our actions. Truth is now considered malleable, by opinion and by zero-sum endgames."

Continuing, the prolific actor said that left them with a choice. “It’s the same option for all grownups who have to decide to be one of three types of Americans: Those who embrace liberty and freedom for all; those who won’t; or those who are indifferent.

“Only the first do the work of creating a more perfect union, a nation indivisible. The others get in the way."

Towards the end of the speech, he drove the point home to a group that included not just undergraduates but those who graduated from Harvard’s professional and extension schools.

“The responsibility is yours. Ours. The effort is optional. But the truth, the truth is sacred. Unalterable. Chiselled into the stone and the foundation of our republic,” he said.

Hanks, who was awarded an honorary doctor of arts degree, poked fun at his own lack of academic credentials on a stage filled with some of the world's brightest minds and most accomplished scientists.

“It’s not fair, but please don’t be embittered by this fact,” he said.

“Now, without having done a lick of work, without having spent any time in class, without once walking into that library – in order to have anything to do with the graduating class of Harvard, its faculty, or its distinguished alumni – I make a damn good living playing someone who did," he said in reference to his depiction of fictional Harvard professor Robert Langdon in three movies based on Dan Brown’s novels – The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and Inferno.

“It’s the way of the world, kids,” Hanks quipped to a chorus of laughter.

“May goodness and mercy follow you all the days," he concluded, referencing a biblical verse. “All the days of your lives. Godspeed."

Additional reporting by Associated Press