Tom Cruise delivered an impassioned speech at the 2013 Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Studio Alumni Celebration in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon, regaling the crowd with stories from his career and advice for aspiring actors looking to break into the business.
A blend of "graduation" and "gala," the event -- held at the Fairmount Miramar Hotel with 750 people on the guest list -- honored 63 students for completing varying tracks of coursework at the Santa Monica-based acting school. It also paid tribute to renowned acting teacher William Esper, and one other special guest: Cruise, serving as unofficial commencement speaker and recipient of the ceremony's "Illumination Award," created specifically for the actor for "lighting a path to truth and beauty," Joanne Baron, who runs the studio, tells The Hollywood Reporter.
"He surprised everyone because we ourselves told no one," says Baron. "We really wanted it to be private and respect his privacy."
Earlier Tuesday, the New York Post published photos of Cruise shaking hands and sporting a gray suit and tie at Sunday's "Celebration."
Cruise's cousin, William Mapother, is among the boldfaced names who have received training from the studio. Others include Halle Berry, Keanu Reeves, Robin Wright, Mariska Hargitay and Jenny McCarthy.
Cruise's speech ranged from a story about his first lead role on the big-screen in the 1981 military drama Taps, where he feared director Harold Becker would fire him for shaving his head without permission, to advice on learning all aspects of movie-making. "He said, 'I was always interested in everyone. I always wanted to know how things worked,'" Baron recalls, saying that after hearing Cruise speak, "you would want to go out into the world and be the person he was."
She adds: "He personified a kind of goodness, authenticity and work ethic. ... He's an actor's actor but a human's human being."
Other notable Alumni Celebration commencement speakers have included Berry, Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, Sean Penn and John Patrick Shanley.
In other Cruise news, Warner Bros. announced this week that it will debut brand-new footage from his upcoming sci-fi thriller, Edge of Tomorrow, at Comic-Con in San Diego on Saturday. The film, also featuring Emily Blunt, is slated for release June 6, 2014.
Cruise recently starred in the action-fueled pictures Jack Reacher and Oblivion.