By Dave Schwab
UCSD kicked off its 50th anniversary celebration on Sept. 21, ushering in incoming freshmen with a dinner and convocation that included a keynote speech by class of '95 alumnus actor Dileep Rao, who has been in the blockbuster films "Avatar" and "Inception."
Rao, who started out as a med school student but switched to theater midway through his time at the university, stole the show.
Noting that his parents disapproved initially of his career choice and never saw a play he was in for the first five years of his professional life, he said he persevered. He added that one of the proudest moments of his life was when his father met his director, Sam Raimi, and Raimi told him, "I really like your son's work; he's a great actor."
To which his father replied, "Thanks for giving our son a chance."
"Self-belief and passion are the only fuel that matters," Rao told the freshmen and the others at the gathering. "If you suck the marrow from this place and do your very best, the great prize you will claim is far more than a diploma. It is yourself, your truest best self. That dear friends, is the greatest prize there is."
Event MC Seth Lerer, the university's dean of arts and humanities, opened the evening, saying: "This is only the fifth annual welcoming convocation, not a long period by some standards. Here at UCSD, we do not follow traditions - we make them."
Acknowledging that UCSD is renowned as a science and engineering school, Lerer said, "We recently surpassed $1 billion in research funding for the first time in the university's history and received more than $155 million in federal stimulus money, more than any other UC campus."
But Lerer said UCSD is also a great arts school, as well, where he said students "learn the art of living." He also noted that it "is a great place to become human."
Chancellor Marye Anne Fox told freshmen: "You're becoming part of a family at this university" at an exciting time with the 50th anniversary celebration. "And you're going to be a huge part of that celebration."
Fox said "the answer to all our national problems, the answer to all the problems in the world, comes to a single word: education. ... Education needs to be the top priority right above the economy, health care, energy or the environment."
Dr. Sandra Daley, associate chancellor for diversity, told the new students that they were joining an academic community dedicated to maintaining an environment of fairness, cooperation, collegiality and professionalism.
Daley struck a theme of unity in diversity, saying: "Here at UC San Diego, we define diversity as the personal experiences, values and world views that arise from differences in race, ethnicity, religion, age, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, geographic location and more. We achieve fairness ... by being nice. And we demonstrate that we're nice by being respectful and civil to each other."
Daley said she hoped that incoming students would have an opportunity to work and play with people who "don't look like you, don't talk like you and don't think like you because they, too, have something to offer."