2017 Valedictorian: Akshay Raghuvanshi


Photo courtesy of AAU Publications.

During his passionate speech to his fellow Academy of Art University students, faculty members and guests at this spring’s commencement ceremony, 2017 Master of Fine Arts Valedictorian Akshay Raghuvanshi kept returning to one theme: follow your dream no matter what. Like many boys growing up in India, his parents hoped he would pursue a career in engineering. But Raghuvanshi dreamed of a future designing the online video games he loved. 

“I am extremely happy and grateful to be recognized for my work at Academy of Art University and feel very fortunate to make a career in what I love,” Raghuvanshi told the audience at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium—which included his mother and sister from India—after receiving his award from Academy President Dr. Elisa Stephens. “I cannot really think of anything in my life but art. When I look back, it’s been three beautiful years of creativity, learning and being around the most talented professionals as my mentors and instructors in this artistic city of San Francisco.”

Raghuvanshi confided that his parents weren’t thrilled when, upon getting his first computer, he spent hours playing Counter Strike and Call of Duty.

Because he was a good student, they allowed him to indulge his passion. They also still believed he would follow in his father’s footsteps and study engineering in college. But when it was time for Raghuvanshi to start applying to universities, he finally told his parents that he didn’t want to be an engineer—he wanted to be a game designer. 

Raghuvanshi’s father’s first question was, “Will you be able to make my face in 3-D after you finish college?” 

“I replied, ‘Yes, why not?’” said Raghuvanshi, chuckling.

With his parents’ blessing, he earned a B.F.A. from one of the top digital arts universities in India. After graduating, he realized he needed more in-depth knowledge of game development in order to launch his career.

“Most instructors at my university didn’t have that much knowledge in game design and development,” he explained. 

Two of his college friends were studying game development at the Academy, and Raghuvanshi grilled them about their experience. After hearing their rave reviews and doing his own research, he decided the Academy would provide him with the skills he needed.

“I remember looking through the university’s website and reading about my graduate director, Pryce Jones,” Raghuvanshi said.  “He had worked on such amazing titles and done such a large amount of art. I knew this was the place I wanted to be.”

Adjusting to life in San Francisco was tough at first. He experienced culture shock and was deeply homesick after arriving in the city in 2014. But as he immersed himself in his studies and grew more comfortable with the culture, he began to enjoy his new world.


Valedictorian Akshay Raghuvanshi speaks to the audience during the graduate commencement ceremony. Photo by Bob Toy.

He also thrived under the guidance of Pryce, instructors such as Jamin Shoulet, and other mentors at the Academy. Their support, combined with his own drive to work as hard as possible to achieve his goals and make his parents proud, helped him excel as a student. Among the many skills he gained, Raghuvanshi cited taking the time to thoroughly research an idea before pitching it as being especially helpful. In addition, he appreciated learning how composition works in game design and his instructors’ emphasis on always starting with the basics. 

“They taught me that if you want to be an environmental modeler, for example, you need to take classes in architecture so you understand the structure of buildings,” Raghuvanshi said. “Initially, I didn’t see how those things would help me, but they matter a lot.”

Raghuvanshi is already freelancing for several game studios. He is also busy going on interviews for full-time jobs as an environmental designer. While he’d love to get hired by a studio, such as Sledgehammer Games, he knows that may take a while. If that’s the case, he’ll just fall back on the excellent advice he offered the graduation audience near the end of his speech:

“Never give up on your dreams as it does not matter how slowly or fast you go as long you keep going. Let your work reflect your personality and success will follow. That’s one of the biggest things I learned here with my friends and [instructors], and I will always stand by it.”