Matt Damon is officially a certified pirate.
During Friday morning’s commencement exercises at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Damon, the keynote speaker, received an “MIT Pirate Certificate” from school President Rafael Reif – a cheeky nod to his role as a self-described space pirate in the hit 2015 film The Martian.
“Usually, you can only receive this certificate from MIT’s Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation,” Reif told Damon and the more than 2,800 undergraduate and graduate members of the class of 2016, before referencing Damon’s character in the film. “But since you – and Mark Watney – have done so much to promote a swashbuckling appreciation for science, engineering, and space exploration, we are honored to present to you a special and authentic MIT pirate certificate.”
In a scene from The Martian, Damon’s character, an astronaut stranded on the titular planet, concludes that since Mars counts as “international waters,” he is the first “space pirate.”
Damon, 45, made light of the fact that while he did attended Harvard, he never actually graduated.
“I put on a cap and gown and walked with my class. My mom and dad and brother were there; I just never got an actual degree. I was kind of a fake graduate, so you can imagine how excited I was when President Reif called and asked me if I would like to speak at the MIT commencement. Then you can imagine how sorry I was to learn that the MIT commencement speaker does not get to go home with a degree,” Damon lamented. “So yes, for the second time in my life, I am fake-graduating from a college in my hometown. My mom and my dad and my brother are here again, but this time I brought my wife and my four kids. So welcome kids to your dad’s fake graduation. You must be so proud.”
Damon’s wife, Luciana Barroso, and their four daughters (Isabella, Gia, Stella, and Alexia from Barroso’s previous marriage) sat in the front row along with his parents during the outdoor ceremony.
On a serious note, Damon urged graduates to keep seeking knowledge and to face the world’s problems head-on – especially when the natural inclination is to turn away.
Citing a litany of concerns including economic inequality, climate change, institutional racism and the refugee crisis, the activist and philanthropist saved his harshest criticism for the banking industry, an industry that “pulled off the biggest heist in history.”
“We have a banking system that steals people’s money,” he said. “It was theft and you knew it. It was fraud and you knew it. And you know what else? We know that you knew it.”
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Damon urged the graduates to embrace failure, saying that the obstacles that he and his close friend Ben Affleck encountered in Hollywood helped shape them into the people they are today.
“For all the amazing successes I’ve been lucky to share, few things have shaped me more than the auditions Ben and I used to go on as young actors, where we’d get on a bus, show up in New York, wait our turn, cry our hearts out for a scene, and then be told ‘Okay, thanks,’ meaning game over,” he said. “We used to call it ‘Okay, thanks,’ and those experiences became our honor.”
Damon received a long standing ovation following his 25-minute address, which he ended by saying: “This is your life, class of 2016. This is your moment. And it is all down to you. Ready, player one – your game begins now.”