Actor and filmmaker Matt Damon will be the commencement speaker for the Class of 2016, MIT announced Thursday.
At MIT’s 139th commencement this June, he will become the first entertainer in 17 years to give the keynote address, and the first speaker in six years from a non-science background.
“I am humbled and thrilled by this invitation,” Damon told the MIT News Office. “I feel a deep affinity for MIT having grown up in the neighborhood. It’s quite an honor to be the commencement speaker at a school that I couldn’t have gotten into.”
Damon attended Harvard University, where he wrote the first draft of what would become his breakout film, Good Will Hunting. The Cambridge-born actor starred as the film’s title character, a self-taught genius who works as a janitor at MIT, and whose brilliance is discovered after he solves a challenging problem in algebraic graph theory.
Recently, Damon starred in The Martian, which was released last October and had grossed $573 million as of Dec. 6. In the film, Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney, who is forced to survive on Mars after a NASA mission leaves him behind.
Throughout his career, Damon has been nominated for six Golden Globe Awards. Good Will Hunting, which Damon co-wrote, won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and Damon received a nomination for Best Actor.
In 2006, Damon embarked on a humanitarian mission, co-founding the H20 Africa Foundation to advocate and raise money for clean water initiatives in Africa. The foundation later merged with WaterPartners to become Water.org, and now provides microfinance loans to people in developing communities to help them gain access to safe water and sanitation.
Along with actors George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and others, Damon co-founded international aid organization Not on Our Watch to bring global attention to human rights violations.
“Mr. Damon couples a passion for his art with a passion for making the world a better place, much as our students couple a passion for science and technology with a passion to improve the world,” Eric Grimson, chair of the Commencement Committee, told the MIT News Office. “I am sure his message will inspire our students to follow that passion and tackle some of the world’s great challenges, such as in water, health, or education.”
Damon is “an inspiration to MIT students, teaching us that humility knows no bounds,” Anish Punjabi, president of the Class of 2016, said in a statement. “The world needs more well-rounded leaders who are passionate about improving society through one genuine act of kindness at a time.”
The most recent commencement speakers have included U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith ’86, DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman, Dropbox founder Drew W. Houston ’05, and Salman A. Khan ’98, founder of Khan Academy.
Past commencement speakers
2015 — Megan Smith ’86, United States chief technology officer
2014 — Ellen Kullman, CEO and chairwoman of DuPont
2013 — Drew W. Houston ’05, CEO and founder of Dropbox
2012 — Salman A. Khan ’98, founder of Khan Academy
2011 — Ursula M. Burns, CEO of Xerox
2010 — Raymond S. Stata ’57, founder of Analog Devices
2009 — Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts
2008 — Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner
2007 — Charles M. Vest, former president of MIT
2006 — Ben S. Bernanke PhD ’79, chairman of the Federal Reserve
2005 — Irwin M. Jacobs ’57, co-founder/chairman/CEO of Qualcomm
2004 — Elias Zerhouni, director of NIH
2003 — George Mitchell, former United States senator
2002 — James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank
2001 — Daniel Goldin, NASA Administrator
2000 — Carly Fiorina SM ’89, president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard
1999 — Tom ’58 and Ray Magliozzi ’72, hosts of NPR’s “Car Talk”
1998 — Bill Clinton, United States president, and David Ho, director of Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center
1997 — Kofi Annan SM ’72, United Nations secretary-general
1996 — Albert Gore, United States vice president
1995 — Hanna H. Gray, president emeritus of the University of Chicago
1994 — Karim Aga Khan IV, spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims
1993 — Carlos Salinas de Gortari, president of Mexico
1992 — Leslie Aspin PhD ’66, congressman from Wisconsin, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
1991 — Walter E. Massey, director of the National Science Foundation
1990 — Virgilio Barco ’43, president of Colombia