This is a written transcript of the student-athlete welcome address at UC Davis from September 2019.
I’d like to start with a question.
What is the most common advice that people receive when they are about to start college?
Make time to meet new and interesting people. Challenge yourself. Get involved in campus activities. Have fun, but not too much fun!
When I was graduating from high school in Toronto, and before I went off to play golf at Stanford, I was pulled aside by my former high school golf coach. His name was Mr. Diamond. I remember him looking at me, and, in a very Canadian and grandfatherly way he said, “look Kevin, I hope you understand how fortunate you are. People I know would give their left arm to go and do what you’re about to do. You get to chase your dream. Most people don’t have the opportunity to do that. I hope you understand that you’re lucky.”
I looked at him nervously. I’m a pretty good player, I thought — the best in the history of our high school — and I wasn’t expecting a lecture on the way out. Mr. Diamond continued: “The best advice I can give you is to go down there, and chase your dream with all your might. Go chase after it.”
Mr. Diamond actually called our office last week to check on me, which I thought was really amazing. His call is what prompted the ideas that I’m going to talk with you about tonight.
Pursue your dreams. Chase your dreams. Go after your dreams.
For some, this advice resonates and they understand what it means. For many people, however, this kind of advice needs to be clarified.
What is a dream, after all? Is it a goal? A hope for the future? Or an idea that you have about your life that you wish to be true?
Dreams have an interesting history in psychology. Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst, often had his patients lie on a couch and describe their dreams from the night before in detail, from which he would try to interpret their state of mind.
Of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously described his dream for America in the historic “I Have A Dream” speech, in which he proposed a vision for a society free of prejudice and discrimination.
When it comes to sports, our dreams are sometimes about playing in the pros or making the Olympics. And, sometimes, these dreams do come true! Keelan Doss is living his dream right now, playing for his hometown NFL team, the Oakland Raiders.
Some of you are probably familiar with Kim Conley, who was a cross country runner at UC Davis and, in 2012, lived out her dream of making the Olympic Games. During the Olympic trials for the 5000m, she made an unbelievable comeback on the final lap to grab the last spot by the slightest of margins. At the end of the race, when she realized what she had done, Kim had an unforgettable look of astonishment on her face. Her dream had in fact been realized.
So, what does having a dream mean to you? And why should you be thinking about this as you start the school year?
When I was a young player growing up in golf, and trying to get better, I read a sports psychology book called “Golf is Not a Game of Perfect”. It was my first exposure to sports psychology, and I didn’t know what to expect when I opened the first chapter, which was called “On my Interpretation of Dreams”.
In this chapter, the author, Dr. Bob Rotella, reassured the reader that his version of sports psychology would not be like Sigmund Freud’s. He wrote the following:
Freud believed dreams were a window into the subconscious mind. From them, he spun a web of theory that, too often, boils down to a belief that people are a victim of circumstances beyond their control — of childhood traumas, parental mistakes, and instinctive impulses.
But the dreams I ask about are not the ones that crept from the unconscious the night before.
The dreams I want to hear of excite some fortunate people from the time they wake up each morning until they fall asleep at night. They are the stuff of passion and tenacity. They might be defined as goals, but goals so bright that they don’t need to be written down to be remembered.
The dreams I want to hear about are the emotional fuel that helps people take control of their lives, and be what they want to be. People with great dreams can achieve great things. On the other hand, a person with small dreams, or a person without the confidence to pursue his or her dreams, has consigned himself or herself to a life of frustration and mediocrity.
After reading that, I reflected: Did I really dream about being a great player, deep in my bones? Did my golfing quest mean so much to me, that it would compel me to sacrifice things that other people wouldn’t? That it possessed me to wake up early on a daily basis and work hard?
Yes, it did. Trying to become a great player was indeed my dream when I was in high school.
A lucky few people in life are able to find a dream so motivating, and so captivating, that their lives are deeply enriched because they derive so much pleasure from its pursuit. They just can’t imagine being happier doing anything else. Even though I didn’t make the PGA Tour, I’m fortunate that this kind of thinking about dreams has defined my life, and enriched it in unimaginable ways.
As you start the school year, I encourage you to ask these questions for yourself. What are you so passionate about that it motivates you, it drives you, and compels you? If you don’t know yet, what are you going to do this year to discover it?
One of the unique things about college is that it’s a time in your life when you are discovering the breadth and complexity of the world. As children, all of us grow up in an environment that is narrower and simpler than the world at large. I grew up in Toronto, Canada. My parents raised me to try hard in school. I played hockey. I played golf. I moved to California when I was 18 years old to go to college.
When I arrived here, I started to appreciate how little I understood about how the world works. I saw both wealth and poverty that I couldn’t previously imagine. I started to appreciate the amazing spirit of innovation and progress that takes place in California — perhaps differently here than in any other place in the world.
I was also very confused about the differences between Fahrenheit and Celsius, and wondered why people thought it was “cold” when the temperature dropped below 70 degrees. And I learned that there were lots of great players kicking my butt on the golf course, even though I came to Stanford as one of the best junior players from Canada.
The broadening of perspective that happens in college has an interesting impact on your dreams. As you are exposed to new things, new perspectives, and new realities, you will almost certainly develop new interests and new dreams. As you begin to more fully understand the opportunities and challenges available to you, how you want to impact the world will also evolve.
Many of you dreamed of being a Division I athlete, and here you are. But what is next? And how will you go about figuring it out? We have the Aggie EVO System in place at UC Davis to help you.
Finding a dream that will motivate and fuel your life after college is not a simple process. It took me several years. I even went to graduate school to earn a Ph.D. that I don’t use much anymore! But, I eventually found my dream and I chase it every day. I’m thrilled to be here serving as your athletics director.
Be open to new possibilities this year. Engage fully in your sport, your classes, and with the EVO System. Understand that your perspective is changing, and that your dreams will also naturally broaden. Use your resources this year, and find something that lights your fire.
As we get the year started, please be reminded that you have the full support of me, the staff, and your coaches. As always, I want you to know that you can reach out to me directly to discuss anything that matters to you, whether related to your sport or not. My cell phone number is up on the video board for those of you who don’t have it yet.
Thanks for your time and attention this evening. Let’s have a great year.