Iris Yamashita – 2019 UCLA Extension Certificate Graduation Ceremony

Iris Yamashita – 2019 UCLA Extension Certificate Graduation Ceremony

October 27, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


I always had a passion for writing as a
hobby even since I was a little girl. So, when I got my first diary when I was in
elementary school, I didn’t write about myself – I wrote about some fictional
characters. I love storytelling. I love using the creative juices. I love
research. A lot of times you just go to the library and you look at books and
it’s kind of like a puzzle where you try to figure out how to construct a story
in a way that fits a puzzle. Almost like a detective, you know, figure out who was
that person and what was it – what was that person thinking? I won the
screenwriting contest and that’s when I started taking courses at UCLA Extension. When I went a second time, I figured, okay, it’s not just a fluke maybe this is
something I can do. All of a sudden, Clint Eastwood is
looking for a writer to write the Japanese perspective of Iwo Jima, but I
never believed that that was ever gonna happen and then I got you know the call
and then I had been nominated and I was just over the moon of course. Please welcome Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and UCLA Extension Professional
Achievement awardee Iris Yamashita. Thank you very much. Accomplished students, distinguished
faculty and staff, parents, friends, and family, it is my great honor and pleasure to be here today to deliver this address to you. It’s wonderful to be back here on
the UCLA campus. A place where I have spent many hours at. First as a student,
and then later as an instructor. I won’t tell you exactly how many years ago it
was when I first started taking classes at Extension, but if I tell you that all-day parking used to be $6, you can guess that it was a long, long time ago. Back
then, like many of you, I was working a full time job during the day and
attending classes at night. Like many of you, I wasn’t here because I had to be,
but because I wanted to be. I had already received a bachelor’s
degree in bioengineering, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and I
was working at a software company. But I realized then that it wasn’t what I
wanted to do. What I really wanted to do was be a writer. So after work, I grabbed
a quick bite – sometimes it was a sandwich from the grocery store, sometimes it was
some questionable and indefinable food item from one of the many fine vending
machines on campus. Then, I had my three hour class where I was excited to be. My
weeknights and weekends were devoted to writing pages.
Working towards that goal of finishing a great screenplay. My father, who was from
the old country and who was very conservative, sat me down one day for a
serious talk and asked me why was I wasting my time and money on writing
classes when it wasn’t going to lead to anything. I should hurry up and find a
husband instead. I understood then, as now, that he was
just genuinely concerned for my welfare. but I’m happy to say it had absolutely
no effect on me. I was a full-grown adult at the time living on my own, paying my
own way, so it was pretty easy to ignore my well-meaning dad. I knew in my heart
of hearts that I was a writer not an engineer, and, as proof of that, today
I can barely calculate a tip, but I can break down a story like nobody’s
business. UCLA Extension gave me the tools and the confidence I needed to start entering contests with a script I had workshopped
in class. I ended up winning a contest that was being judged by an agent at the
Creative Artists Agency, otherwise known as CAA, and that is how I got my first
representation. A few years later, my agent found out that Clint Eastwood was
looking for a writer to pen a companion film to the war movie “Flags of Our
Fathers,” so she put me up for it. Some of her colleagues, however, thought that I
would never get the job because I was a woman and women can’t write war movies
she was told. When I heard that, frankly, it made me even more determined. I’m
going to write the best damn war movie because I’m a woman, I thought to myself.
Well, I pitched my story to Clint Eastwood, and I got the job. And the film – thank you – the film called “Letters from Iwo Jima”
eventually won Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes
and four Academy Award nominations – thank you – including Best Picture and I was
nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Thank you. At the Oscar nominee luncheon, I had the privilege of meeting the amazing and talented Helen Mirren. “It took a woman to write that movie,” she said, and I can’t tell you how much those words meant to
me and still mean to me. Meanwhile, my dad, I am happy to say, eventually came around when I took him to the Academy Awards. He got to wear tux, and ride a limo, and walk
down the red carpet. In fact, he even stopped to give a reporter or two an
interview. And I did get married eventually to my wonderful husband who
is here with me today, so it was a win-win for all. Two years later, my father passed away
from cancer, but I believe he was never more happy or proud of his daughter than
on that day on the red carpet. I didn’t take home the statue, but I got the
elusive approval of an Asian dad, which at the
end of the day was the bigger prize. If there is one takeaway that I want you to
remember today, it’s that you are your greatest asset. It’s not your house, not
your car, not your stock portfolio, and I’m sorry to say not even the
certificate you’ll be receiving today, but you. You took the steps to improve
your life, to work hard, to follow a purpose. There maybe have been there may have been obstacles in your way, there may have been times when things
were rough, but your determination is what got you through to today. When
you walk out that door, you may be told that you’re not going to get where you
want to be. You may be told that you’re not smart enough, not accomplished enough, not experienced enough, or whatever reason – just not good enough. But it’s
what happens after that that matters most. Remember that you are your greatest
asset. Only you can light your own path to where you want to be. It’s up to you
to persevere, to believe in yourself and accomplish the task that you set for
yourself. Always be reaching for your star. But when I say that I’m not talking
about what shines above you, but about the star that shines within
you and it’s just possible that your dreams may come true. Congratulations
UCLA Extension Class of 2019. And before she sits down, I want to grab Iris. This is the Professional Achievement Award awarded
to our outstanding UCLA Extension professional and I think we’ll all agree
that Iris definitely deserves it. Each year you see…