Tom Hanks, Academy Award-winning actor, writer and director, addresses the Yale College Class of 2011 during the traditional Class Day speech and offers the graduates insight and encouragement.
NEW HAVEN ——
Minutes before Yale's Class Day began, a tour guide stood on the stone fence outside Old Campus, shouting facts about the university's history as a mass of parents and well-wishers rushed past, seeking their own historic moments — and maybe a peek at Tom Hanks.
The two-time Academy Award winner spoke before an audience of 16,000, including 1,300 soon-to-be-graduating seniors wearing somber robes and hats that made Kentucky Derby toppers seem staid in comparison.
Students wore, among every other conceivable thing that could be fastened to a head, Viking helmets, trapper caps, sparkling cowboy hats, a toilet seat and roll of toilet paper, a sign reading "Thanks Mom + Dad," and a proper-looking pink hat with a mass of naked Barbie dolls wired to it.
The tall blonde senior beneath it said that the Barbie hat was a tribute to her secret society, the Pundits. The group, famous for throwing naked parties, had recently gotten into hot water with the university for, quite predictably, throwing a naked party.
"It's like a royal wedding busted out," said Hanks (wearing a Yale baseball cap), as he advised graduates not to turn off their electronic devices, telling them that later they could "compare your tweets and Facebook comments to see if anything memorable went down," or post a video mix-up on YouTube.
"If it goes viral, you will be as popular as that cat playing with the paper bag," he said, earning laughs.
Hanks' speech was not short on jokes, but the main themes he returned to were serious — the difficulties, duties and responsibilities that the students would face following graduation.
"The future now rests with you, in your goofy hats, all because you went to Yale," said Hanks. "You are the anointed."
He warned students about technology's distractions and the distinctly dark implications of the fact that everyone could, and many did, record anything and post it online.
"There is a Big Brother," said Hanks. "He is all of us and he lives in our search engines."
The graduates, said Hanks, must not live in fear, but rather in faith, helping others — especially the returning veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — to cultivate the faith to carry on.
"Your job is to stand on the fulcrum between fear and faith. Fear at your back and faith in front of you … move always forward and … tweet out a picture of the results," said Hanks.
Student speeches and prizes followed, with Yalies speaking about the joys of attending the school and the sadness of leaving it.
Senior Riley Scripps Ford talked about how the school had taught students to fall in love with ideas, disciplines and places around a campus that had become their home.
"We will never have this, precisely this, ever again," said Ford.
Class Day, a Yale tradition that is held the day before commencement, ended with students waving handkerchiefs as they sang "Bright College Years." As might be expected from a college with more than 30 singing groups, the rendition was relatively in tune.
Commencement is scheduled for Monday morning.