Tom Hanks references coronavirus, makes Beyoncé joke in virtual commencement speech

Tom Hanks gave a virtual commencement speech for Ohio's Wright State University. (Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
Tom Hanks gave a virtual commencement speech for Ohio's Wright State University. (Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

Mere weeks after recovering from COVID-19, Tom Hanks has emerged as the busiest man in Hollywood. Fresh from hosting Saturday Night Live at Home from his kitchen and donating plasma, the Oscar winner has emerged as the commencement speaker for an Ohio university’s graduating class.

On Saturday, Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio shared the video Hanks made for seniors graduating from its Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures. Local news station WDTN reports that professor and department artistic director W. Stuart McDowell is a longtime friend of the star, who visited the campus in 2016 to dedicate the Tom Hanks Center for Motion Pictures in addition to assisting in fundraising efforts.

Hanks agreed to submit a five-minute video, filmed at home, for the school’s virtual graduation ceremony. Members of Wright’s Class of 2020, meanwhile, have been posting photos of their graduation looks online.

“I’m here to say congratulations,” the 63-year-old star began. “Congratulations to you chosen ones. And I am calling you ‘the chosen ones’ because you have been chosen in many ways. First, by the temperament and discipline you’ve lived by, by the creative fires that are inside of you and the distinctive lunges of your desires. There is something about you, all of you — in your upbringing and your background and your conscious memories and your ongoing mysteries — something that has driven you to complete your courses and achieve your selected challenges across the rubicon of your time there, your studies at Wright State. 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.”

He went on to reference the coronavirus pandemic, which saw him and wife Rita Wilson included among the 3-million-and-counting positive cases.

“You are the chosen ones because of a fate unimagined when you began your Wright State adventures,” he noted. “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: ‘Well, that was back before the COVID-19. That was before the Great Pandemic.’ Part of your lives will forever be identified as ‘before,’ in the same way other generations tell time like, ‘Well, 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.”

He added that the graduates were leaving school during “the great reset, the great reboot.”

“You’ve gone from student to graduate with more that is expected of you than to just be an American,” he continued. “You’ve had to be responsible Americans. You’ve had to be good Americans — good Americans that have made sacrifices that have saved lives.”

He then reflected on the moments ahead, post-pandemic.

“Sometime, if we all remain good Americans, you will continue on into the ‘after’ — as in, ‘that was after the virus was tamed.’ After we were safe to go out again. After we took up our probable lives once more. But your ‘after’ is not going to look the same as your ‘during’ or as your ‘before’; you will have seen the movie and you will know how it ends. You will be enlightened in ways your degree from Wright State never held in promise.

“You will have made it through the time of great sacrifice and great need,” he said. “And no one will be more fresh to the task of restarting our measure of normalcy than you — you chosen ones.”

Related Video: Tom Hanks Gives Back After COVID-19 Diagnosis

He ended by noting that the graduates would be responsible for helping to make a “new world” for the “after” stretch.

And while he acknowledged that the future is “always uncertain,” he told graduates that “we are certain of one thing on this day — you will not let us down.”

Wright State department chair Joe Deer, who had asked McDowell to reach out to his friend Hanks for the speech, told WDTN that it “means a great deal to all of us.

“We’re so grateful for his inspiring words and the care he took to give what was clearly a very carefully written speech,” he added. “He is one of a kind.”

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