Entrepreneur and philanthropist George L. Pla received an honorary doctorate during Commencement 2023 at Cal State LA and was praised by Mayor Karen Bass for his contributions to Los Angeles.
A Cal State LA alumnus, Pla is the founder, president and CEO of Cordoba Corporation, a nationally recognized civil engineering, program and construction management firm. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and author whose business and civic activities focus on enhancing and empowering communities throughout California.
Cal State LA and the California State University Board of Trustees conferred an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters during the Commencement ceremony for the College of Ethnic Studies and College of Natural and Social Sciences on May 24. The ceremony took place during the culmination of Cal State LA’s 75th anniversary.
“In recognition of his generous contributions to the campus and decades of commitment to the city of Los Angeles, the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California State University, Los Angeles are proud to confer upon George L. Pla the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters,” said Cal State LA President William A. Covino, moments before he and Cal State LA Provost and Executive Vice President Jose A. Gomez placed a doctoral hood on Pla.
Pla and Cal State LA leaders were joined onstage at the ceremony by Los Angeles Community College District Chancellor Francisco C. Rodriguez, Long Beach City College Superintendent-President Mike Muñoz and Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass.
Bass, who is an alumna of Cal State Dominguez Hills and was once a student at Cal State LA, applauded the Class of 2023 on their achievement and congratulated Pla on receiving the honorary degree.
“George Pla is a great example of an individual who has built a very successful business rooted in values that move our society forward, never just focused on himself,” Bass said during the ceremony. “Something else I hope graduates will emulate—you can be successful as an individual but never forget your community.”
After accepting the honor, Pla delivered a moving address to the graduates, sharing his inspiring story of crossing the border into the United States from Tijuana, Mexico, with his family at age 5 and learning English while growing up in Boyle Heights. He was the first in his family to graduate from college, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Cal State LA in 1972 and a Master of Public Administration from USC in 1974.
“As an immigrant, I know this is a land of opportunity,” Pla said to the graduates. “And you, my friends, should take advantage of the opportunities in front of you.”
Pla serves as the governor’s appointee to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission, which is helping prepare for the 2028 Summer Olympics, and serves as the commission’s president. He served on the California Science Center Foundation Board of Trustees and led the planning of Cordoba Corporation’s historic transport of the space shuttle Endeavour through the streets of Los Angeles in 2012.
He is a co-founder of the City Club, a premier private club in Los Angeles that embraces and reflects the diversity and spirit of the city and coauthored a book, entitled Power Shift: How Latinos in California Transformed Politics in America, which recounts the history of Latino political empowerment in California and beyond.
A generous donor to Cal State LA, Pla has made a commitment to fund the George L. Pla Latino Leadership and Policy Forum at the university. His philanthropic efforts extend to national institutions, including Cordoba Corporation’s commitment to supporting the Latino history initiatives at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
Pla is an inaugural member of the Cal State LA President’s Council. In 1991, he was honored as Cal State LA’s Alumnus of the Year, and in 2016, he received the Joe Shapiro Humanitarian Award at Cal State LA’s Billie Jean King & Friends Awards Gala. In 2017, he was awarded the Presidential Medallion, the university’s highest honor, bestowed upon individuals who have displayed outstanding leadership and extraordinary service to the Cal State LA community.
During his remarks, Pla emphasized the importance of appreciating family and friends, and asked the Class of 2023 to stand and thank their families for the support they’ve provided them on their journey to earning their degrees.
“Influence and impact will never be accomplished by you alone,” Pla said. “I encourage you to always reach out to family and friends who love and support you and tell you the truth!”
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California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 26,000 students and has more than 250,000 distinguished alumni.
Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit www.CalStateLA.edu.