NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 09: Tom Hanks attends the "A Man Called Otto" New York Screening at Dot Dash Meredith on January 09, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Harvard has announced that actor and six-time Oscar award winner, Tom Hanks will serve as their 2023 Commencement speaker. Hanks, who is also a renowned humanitarian, will deliver the principal address at the university’s 372nd ceremony on May 25th. Each year, Harvard selects a unique and accomplished individual to grace their podium. Since the turn of the century, Harvard has tapped Prime Ministers, Presidents, founders, authors and philanthropists. With Hanks getting the honor this year, we’ve listed eight of the most well-known commencement speakers Harvard has had since the year 2000.

  • Ernesto Zedillo, 61st President of Mexico - 2003

    Zedillo served as Mexico’s president from 1994-2000. He is credited for help leading Mexico out of financial crisis, in addition to pushing for democracy. He is now part of another Ivy League university – as faculty at Yale University. He teaches economics and global affairs.
    Ernesto Zedillo

  • John Lithgow, actor - 2005

    Lithgow is a Harvard alumni and also the recipient of their 2017 Harvard Arts Medal. He has appeared on Broadway, TV sitcoms and major motion pictures.  Next to Lithgow’s Harvard Arts medal sits six Emmy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and two Tony Awards.
    John Lithgow

  • Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder - 2007

    Gates attended Harvard but notoriously dropped out of after two years. He received his honorary degree upon his return to deliver the 2007 commencement speech.

    Bill Gates

  • J.K. Rowling, author - 2008

    The author or the Harry Potter series used her platform to illuminate the power of imagination. “Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared,” Rowling said.

    jk rowling

  • Oprah Winfrey, talk show host, producer - 2013

    Winfrey, who is also a businesswoman, author, philanthropist and humanitarian, received an honorary  Doctor of Laws degree during her commencement ceremony. “Oh my goodness. I’m at Harvard!”, was Winfrey’s infamous opening speech line.

    Oprah Harvard

  • Steven Spielberg, producer, writer, director - 2016

    Spielberg studied film in college before dropping out. His commencement speech centered around courage. Something he knew a lot about. Spielberg had perhaps the most clever closing remark of all, “I hope you outrun the T-Rex, catch the criminal, and—for your parents’ sake—maybe, every now and then, just like E.T., go home.”

    Steven S

  • Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook/Meta founder - 2017

    Zuckerberg (along with his partners) infamously launched Facebook during his years as a Harvard student. He also dropped out and headed west, but would receive an honorary degree during his speech ceremony. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative donated millions back to Harvard, establishing organizations such as the Kempner Institute. Furthermore, Zuckerberg has been vocal about his admiration for Pinocchio’s Pizza in Harvard Square.

    Mark Zuckerberg

  • Tom Hanks, actor - 2023

    If the movie trailer announcement is any indication, the 2023 principal speech could be one the most memorable. “In addition to his brilliance as an actor, Tom has demonstrated both an innate empathy and a deep understanding of the human condition,” Harvard President Larry Bacow stated.



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