In a speech he delivered for Wright State University seniors on Saturday, the actor, who recently recovered from COVID-19, praised students graduating amid the outbreak and offered advice for moving forward into the unknown.
"Congratulations to you chosen ones. I am calling you the chosen ones because you have been chosen in many ways," Hanks, 63, began. "You are the chosen ones because of a fate unimagined when you began your Wright State adventures. 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 just that way. 'Well, that was before the COVID-19.'"
He continued: "Part of your lives will forever be identified as 'before,' the same way other generations tell time like, '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."
The Oscar-winner then emphasized the responsibility of all Americans in fighting the outbreak.
"You have finished Wright State during the great reset, the great reboot," he explained. "You've gone from student to graduate when more has been expected of you than to just be an American. You have had to be responsible Americans. You've had to be good Americans, good Americans who made the sacrifices that have saved lives."
He also called out why the class of 2020 is especially suited for this task.
"You will continue on into the 'after,' as in 'that was after the virus was tamed,'" he said. "But your 'after' is not going to look the same as your 'during' or as your 'before.' ... You'll have made it through the time of great sacrifice and great need, and no one will be more fresh to the task of restarting our measure of normalcy than you, you chose ones."
He added: "You are chosen in that way, to enter into the competition of life just when so many have had to recover and refresh and restart and reawaken and to retake up the hard work and unshirkable responsibilities of making the world not only our own but of your own.
To conclude, Hanks stressed, "You chosen ones are going to form the new structures and to find the new realities and make the new world, the world after all that we have been through."
The speech isn't the first one the "Castaway" star has given about the coronavirus pandemic.
In April, he delivered the opening monologue of the first "Saturday Night Live" episode since the show went on hiatus. (There's since been one more episode with Brad Pitt as Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leader of the U.S. coronavirus response.)
After he made all the appropriate topical jokes, he told viewers, "Stay safe. We are in this for the duration, and we will get through this together."