The Senior Class Council’s decision to bring actor Tom Hanks to speak on Class Day this spring breaks with a recent trend of invitations to political and media leaders, and students interviewed said they welcome the change.
Eighteen of 22 seniors interviewed expressed satisfaction with the selection, which was announced in an e-mail to the senior class on Friday. An informal selection committee within the Senior Class Council charged with finding a speaker sought one from the entertainment indus
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try with broad appeal to Class Day attendees. Committee member and Class Treasurer Mathilde Williams ’11 said the group ultimately decided on Hanks, who is not a Yale graduate, because of his ability to engage an audience.
“I think the University recognizes that Yalies have diverse interests, and Class Day is about recognizing talents that people have,” said committee member and Class Secretary Cathy Lew ’11. “Nobody really embodies that more to us than Tom Hanks.”
Hanks’ publicist Michelle Benson declined to comment Friday on Hanks’ selection as Class Day speaker. Hanks has experience delivering commencement addresses and delivered a speech at Vassar College’s graduation ceremony in 2005.
Lew said the selection committee “absolutely loved” the speech, but both Lew and Williams said they think his Yale speech will be entirely different.
“Some [speakers] in the past have asked for suggestions, but he’ll do his own thing,” Williams said. “He’ll tailor it to Yale like he did to Vassar.”
Many seniors interviewed said that Hanks is a welcome relief from Yale’s tradition of bringing Class Day speakers in politics or social service. Previous commencement speakers include former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73, who spoke last year, as well as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, author Christopher Buckley ’75, and journalists Fareed Zakaria ’86 and Anderson Cooper ’89.
“I’m excited that it’s not a politician because it will be less polarizing and very fun,” said Hilary Faxon ’11. “I think it will be funny and upbeat and pretty inspiring.”
Students also said that, given Hanks’ experience as an actor, they are expecting a particularly eloquent and funny speech.
Richard Kim ’11 said he did not have a strong preference for Class Day speaker before the announcement but is excited to hear Hanks’ speech.
“If Mr. Hanks’s past Academy Award acceptance speeches are hints of what we can expect, I think we will all hear a man who can engage everyone on personal levels and still encourage us to strive for a better world,” he said.
Ben Lash ’11, however, said he is surprised and slightly disappointed that the Senior Class Council selected an actor over a speaker with ties to politics or a non-governmental organization.
He added that despite his dismay, he has no strong feelings about the selection since Hanks is likely to “say the same things graduation speakers always say.”
The search for a Class Day speaker began shortly after Lew and Williams attended Class Day last spring for the class of 2010. Lew said she and Williams knew “immediately” that they wanted to bring a speaker from the entertainment industry, but Williams said the committee did not confirm Hanks would fill the position until January.
Members of the senior class — not administrators — were responsible for contacting and confirming the selected speaker, Gordon added.
Hanks has gained fame for his roles in “Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump,” the “Toy Story” series, “Apollo 13” and “Saving Private Ryan.” He is also the first actor in 50 years to receive back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Actor, in 1993 and 1994.
Hanks has visited New Haven at least once, when he visited Mory’s in 1990 to conduct research for his role in the film “The Bonfire of the Vanities.” He played a character who had graduated from Yale.
Tom Stanley Becker, Shira Telushkin and Sharon Yin contributed reporting.