If you're wondering where Tom Cruise has been during the recent Scientology brouhaha with Leah Remini, wonder no more: He was the surprise commencement speaker at a Santa Monica, Calif., acting school's commencement over the weekend.

Cruise regaled the 60 graduates of the prestigious Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Studio on Sunday (July 14) with an inspirational speech that offered words of wisdom and revealed tidbits about the earliest days of his career.

"I took four classes at a neighborhood playhouse -- not at the school itself. I took their night classes [because] I couldn't afford the regular school. And then I got a film called 'Taps,'" Cruise told the grads about his first substantial movie role in 1981.

"We had four weeks of rehearsals, and I was shooting with Timothy Hutton ... there's Sean Penn, his first film, George C. Scott ... it was an incredible experience for me."

He also advised the students to keep educating themselves, even after getting their big breaks.

“[Tom] said that when you do finally get the chance of being in a movie, don’t spend the time in the trailer,” a witness tells the New York Post. “He said you need to experience everything on the movie, talk to everyone on the crew, the grips, everyone. Learn everything you can. You will never get that time back.”

“It was one of the most inspiring speeches we’ve had,” an insider said. And given who else the school has hosted in the past -- Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman, to name a few -- that's high praise.

Later that day, Team Cruise tweeted out its best wishes to the graduates:

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