Warren College Commencement Speech

I was asked to be one of the commencement speakers at UCSD’s Warren College in June of 2014.  Below is what I told the graduates:


Good news.  For those of you who have been suffering recurring nightmares, and waking up in a cold sweat about being unprepared to take a final, you are now a UCSD graduate and you no longer need to have that nightmare.

Of course I’ve been telling myself that for more than thirty years whenever I still wake up from that same nightmare.

Thirty-six years ago I was one of you, a newly minted Warren College graduate.  I took a path different than most.  I became a writer.  I don’t know if a writer should be giving career advice.  As John Steinbeck said, “The profession of writing makes horse-racing seem like a solid, stable business.”  However, I can offer you the same writing advice I give when a want-to-be writer comes to me and says they have a lot of ideas, but they’re not sure what book they should be writing.  What I tell them is, “Write the book you would most want to read yourself.”

And I would say to you, think of yourself as the author of your own life.  You are the protagonist.  What do you want to happen to your hero?  You don’t have to have a clear outline of your hero’s path, but in the words of Joseph Campbell I hope you would dare to follow your bliss.

When I graduated from UCSD I didn’t have an appointment with med school, or law school, or business school, and the only job I had lined up paid little more than the minimum wage.  I followed my dream of being a writer, and went out into the world.  I didn’t know whether I would succeed, but I did know I would never be happy if I didn’t at least try.  All of you are now writing the story of your own life.  Know that every plot is a struggle, just as every life is a struggle.  And know that this cliché is true:  it is the journey, and not the destination.

It is my privilege to congratulate the Warren College class of 2014 and welcome you to the ranks of UCSD’s 130,000 alumni.

Every year UCSD Alumni proudly honors an outstanding senior from each of the University’s undergraduate colleges who has demonstrated a superior combination of academic distinction, campus leadership, and significant contributions in service to the University and community.

Like all of the graduates out there, I did not receive this award.  And if your family is like mine, and asks why you didn’t get it, all you have to do is say, “Well, Alan Russell didn’t get it either.”

Anyway, UCSD Alumni presents these awards in the knowledge that “the journey continues,” and that the privilege of a world class education comes with responsibilities toward the next generation.

This year’s recipient has been an involved student and leader for Warren College since he first arrived.  He has made his mark at Warren College and campus-wide serving as a vital student voice on a number of important committees including the Student Fee Advisory Committee and the Academic Integrity Review Board.  This student is a humble and balanced leader who showed a willingness to do whatever it took to get the job done, as well as to represent the college and his constituents in a thoughtful and professional manner.  UCSD Alumni are honored to recognize Jeremy Akiyama as the UCSD Alumni Outstanding Senior from the Warren College Class of 2014.