Tom Hanks' Family Say They're Calling Him 'Doctor' After Harvard Honorary Degree (Exclusive)
“He is already asking to be called doctor,” Tom Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, tells PEOPLE
Call him Doctor Hanks.
Tom Hanks has many professional titles pertaining to his decades-long career in the film and television industries, but as of Thursday, he has a new one: Doctor.
The 66-year-old actor, director, writer and producer received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Harvard University — where he gave the commencement address at the school’s 372nd graduation ceremony.
“He is already asking to be called doctor,” Rita Wilson — Hanks’ wife of 35 years – told PEOPLE before Thursday’s ceremony. And the couple’s son, Truman, who sat with his mom in the front row at the commencement exercises, says he is more than happy to oblige his dad’s request.
"I’m calling him doctor — even if it’s only honorary,” the 27-year-old actor (who plays a younger version of his dad’s character in A Man Called Otto, released earlier this year), told PEOPLE.
On the heels of a red carpet appearance Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival — for the world premiere of Asteroid City, in which Hanks and Wilson appear — the couple arrived in Massachusetts on Wednesday for a dinner (with other honorary degree recipients) at Harvard.
Related: Tom Hanks Says He Could Still Star in Movies After His Death, Thanks to AI
Shortly before 9 a.m. Thursday, Hanks and the other honorees posed for photos off the school’s quad with officials from the Ivy League institution before taking the processional walk across campus. Harvard graduates — and some undergraduates and ceremony guests — lined the walkways and cheered and shouted to the movie star, who donned a red and black gown with a black cap and silver tassel.
“Forrest Gump, I love you!” shouted one graduating senior. “You’re my favorite actor. I love volleyball and you,” screamed another, as Hanks fist-pumped her and several of her friends.
When he introduced Hanks, Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow referred to some of the actor’s more memorable roles, including those in which he was “Wilson’s bestie, Buzz’s buddy, Ryan’s savior, [and] America’s dad.” Before awarding Hanks his degree, Bacow said that “with wit and grace, grit and gumption, his performances tap the heart and soul and show us why in Tom we trust.”
Much to Hanks' amusement, he was gifted a Wilson volleyball — a nod to the 2000 release Cast Away — with “HARVARD” written on it. He was also serenaded/roasted by a student quartet who sang amusing rhymes that touched on almost all of Hanks' roles. Wilson could be seen laughing and videotaping the skit on her phone.
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Expressing gratitude for the kind words and prestigious title, Hanks accepted the honor “on behalf of all of us who have studied for two years at Chabot Community College in Hayward, California; two semesters of California State University, Sacramento; and 45 years at the school of hard knocks, earning a bachelor of arts degree in one damn thing after another.”
During his nearly 30-minute speech, the Forrest Gump star touched on patriotic themes, used several superhero analogies to urge graduates to tap into their “special powers” to make a difference in the world, to steer clear of apathy, hold on to truth, and to remember that “we are all human.”
He said that actor Marlon Brando (“could you pick up that name I just dropped there” he joked), who called him “Tommy, Tommy Handkerchief” and referred to himself as “Marlon Bran Flakes,” told him that “when he registered for the draft, he filled out the form for his name and age. When it came to `race,’ he wrote `human.’”
“For what are we all, but human?” Hanks asked rhetorically.
Calling himself an “armchair historian who reads non-fiction for pleasure,” Hanks talked about patriotism and the importance of “justice and the American way.”
“If you live in the United States of America, the trust is sacred, unalterable, chiseled into the stone of the foundation of our republic,” he said. “When it comes to our race, there are many models, but only one chassis. None of us are super, but we are the Americans, unique in our willingness to admit that when it comes to our race, we are all but human — so said Marlon Bran flakes to Tommy Tommy Handkerchief.”
Following the commencement exercises, students said they couldn’t have been happier with the choice of Hanks as a speaker.
“I think he tried to connect with young people with the superhero references,” said Donny Xu, 22, who received a master’s degree in education. “He was good …definitely better than a politician.”
Cole Crawford, 29, who earned his master’s degree in software engineering from Harvard, said he isn’t a fan of commencement exercises and did not attend a previous one when he received his first master’s degree.
“I was really excited when I learned it was Tom Hanks,” he said. “He did not disappoint. It was quite a patriotic speech, which was interesting, and I like how he focused on how now, more than ever, we need unity.”
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