FAIRFAX, Va. (June 1, 2007) — Ben Affleck cracked jokes about his film career during a high-school commencement speech Friday while giving a heartfelt tribute to a graduating student he befriended years ago.
Students at Falls Church High School and family members gave a standing ovation to Affleck following his commencement speech, in which he praised 19-year-old Joe Kindregan, a disabled student he met in 1998 on a film shoot. The two built a close friendship.
“Everything I learned about life that really matters … I learned from Joe,” Affleck told the audience.
Kindregan suffers from ataxia-telengiectasia, a rare, degenerative genetic disease. Over the past decade, Affleck has helped Kindregan raise money to develop a cure for the disease.
The close nature of the pair’s friendship was evident at Friday’s ceremony; Affleck planted a kiss on Kindregan’s forehead after being introduced and later playfully swatted him with a rolled-up program.
The two met in 1998 when the Kindregans came to Dulles International Airport to watch a crew shoot the film “Forces of Nature,” which starred Affleck. The actor noticed Kindregan, then 10 years old, in his wheelchair and struck up a conversation.
Affleck jokingly explained to the 284 graduating seniors — who most likely never saw the film — that “it was very similar to another movie called “Citizen Kane.”’
Affleck said Kindregan has since been on the set of all of his films — “He liked being on the set of `Daredevil’ a lot more than being on the set of (box-office bomb) `Gigli.’ But he was too polite to mention it,” Affleck said.
Kindregan introduced Affleck to the audience by saying “He is married to the cutest girl (Jennifer Garner) … but most important he is the best friend you could ever have.” Kindregan declined to be interviewed.
Affleck, dressed in a traditional graduation gown, sat on the dais next to Kindregan and other school officials and shook hands with students who came up on stage to receive their diplomas. A few were bold enough to ask for a hug, and Affleck obliged.
“He’s a good hugger,” said graduate Melinda Wodatch. She said Affleck’s presence added to a memorable event. “I think all the kids were actually listening to his speech,” she said.
Garner attended the graduation but did not participate in the ceremonies.