The following is the full transcript of Matt Damon’s MIT Commencement Speech, June 3 2016.
Matt Damon – Actor
All right. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you, President Reif. Thank you Class of 1966. That was alarming walking along and seeing 66 and then somebody saying, “Oh it’s their 50th” I almost had a heart attack. Time flies.
And mostly thank you to the Class of 2016. It is such an honor to be part of your day. It’s an honor to be here with you, with your friends, your professors and your parents. But let’s be honest this is an honor I didn’t really earn. I’m just going to put that out there. I mean, I’ve seen the list of previous commencement speakers, Nobel Prize winners, the U.N. secretary general, president of the World Bank, president of the United States — and who did you get? The guy who did the voice for a cartoon horse. If you’re wondering which cartoon horse, that’s Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, a movie some of you might have grown up watching. It’s definitely one of my best performances as a cartoon horse.
Well, look, I don’t even have a college degree. As you might have heard I went to Harvard, I just didn’t graduate from Harvard. I got pretty close but I started to get movie roles and I didn’t finish all my courses. But I put on a cap and gown and I walked with my class. My mom and dad and brother were there and everything, I just never got an actual degree. So you could say I kind of fake graduated.
So you can imagine how excited I was when President Reif called to invite me to speak at the MIT commencement. And then you can imagine how sorry I was to learn that the MIT commencement speaker does not get to go home with a degree. So yes, for the second time in my life, I am fake graduating from a college in my hometown. And my mom and my dad and my brother are here again. And this time I brought my wife and my four kids. So welcome kids to your dad’s second fake graduation. You must be so proud.
So as I said, my mom is here. She is a professor, so she knows the value of an MIT degree. She also knows that I couldn’t have gotten in here. I mean Harvard, you know, barely or a safety school like Yale. Look, I’m not running for any kind of office, I can say pretty much whatever I want.
No, I couldn’t have gotten in here but I did grow up here. I grew up in the neighborhood in the shadow of this imposing place. My brother Kyle and I and my friend Ben Affleck, brilliant guy, good guy never really amounted too much. We all grew up right here in Central Square, the children of this sometimes rocky marriage between this city and its great institutions.
To us, MIT was kind of like the man, this big impressive impersonal force, at least that was our provincial kneejerk teenage reaction anyway. And then Ben and I shot a movie here and one of the scenes in Good Will Hunting was based on something that actually happened to my brother Kyle. He was visiting a physicist that we knew at MIT and he was walking down the infinite corridor. He saw those blackboards that lined the halls. And so my brother who’s an artist picked up some chalk and wrote an incredibly elaborate totally fake version of an equation. And it was so cool and completely insane that no one raised it for months. This is a true story.
Anyway, Kyle came back and he said, “You guys, listen to this. They’ve got blackboards running down the hall, because these kids are so smart they just need to drop everything and solve problems”. And it was then we knew for sure we could never have gotten in. But like I said, we later made a movie here which did not go unnoticed on campus. In fact, I’d like to read you some actual lines, some selected passages from the review of Good Will Hunting in the MIT school paper. If you haven’t seen, Will was me and Sean is played by the late Robin Williams, a man I miss a hell of a lot.
So I’m quoting here. “Good Will Hunting is very entertaining but then again any movie partially set at MIT has to be”. But there’s more, in the end the reviewer writes, “The actual character development flies out the window. Will and Sean talk, bond, solve each other’s problems and then cry and hug each other, after sad crying and hugging, the movie ends. Such feel good pretentiousness is definitely not my mug of eggnog”. Well that kind of hurts.
But don’t worry, I know now better than to cry at MIT. But look, I’m happy to be here anyway. I might still be a kneejerk teenager in key respects but I know an amazing school when I see it. We’re lucky to have MIT in Boston, and we’re lucky it draws the people that it does, people like you from around the world. I mean, you’re working on some crazy stuff in these buildings, stuff that would freak me out if I actually understood it – theories, models, paradigm shifts.
I am going to tell you about one that’s been on my mind: simulation theory. Most of you’ve probably heard of this, maybe even took a class with Max Tegmark. But for the uninitiated, there’s a philosopher named Nick Bostrom at Oxford. And he has postulated if there is a truly advanced form of intelligence out there in the universe, it’s probably advanced enough to run simulations of entire worlds, maybe trillions of them, maybe even our own. So the basic idea as I understand it is that we could be living in a massive simulation run by a far smarter civilization like a giant computer game and we don’t even know it.