Bioscience leader and Cal State LA alumnus Guillermo “Willie” Zuñiga received an honorary doctorate during Commencement 2023.
Zuñiga, a Glendora resident, is emeritus president of Grifols Biologicals LLC, a manufacturer of life-saving therapies derived from human plasma and used by patients with rare, chronic and often life-threatening conditions worldwide. During his more than four-decade career, he has led efforts to support education and workforce development at Cal State LA and in the communities served by the university.
Cal State LA and the California State University Board of Trustees conferred an honorary Doctor of Letters during the morning Commencement ceremony for the College of Business and Economics on May 26. The ceremony took place during the culmination of Cal State LA’s 75th anniversary.
“In recognition of his dedication to the health and professional development of his community, and his collaborative efforts for the betterment of students in the Los Angeles area, the Board of Trustees for California State University and California State University, Los Angeles are proud to confer upon Guillermo ‘Willie’ Zuñiga the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters,” said CSU Board of Trustees Vice Chair Jack B. Clarke Jr., moments before he and Cal State LA President William A. Covino placed a doctoral hood on Zuñiga.
After accepting the honor, Zuñiga delivered an uplifting address to graduates of the College of Business and Economics, one of Cal State LA’s academic colleges. He recounted memories growing up nearby the university in El Sereno, living with his family in a one-bedroom house and only speaking Spanish at first.
After attending Wilson High School, Zuñiga started his career in the biopharmaceutical industry as an entry-level manufacturing technician in 1979 with Alpha Therapeutic Corporation, right across the street from the university. He attended night classes at Cal State LA and received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the College of Business and Economics in 1986.
When he graduated, he didn’t participate in Commencement, and he always regretted it. Now, 37 years later, he walked the Commencement stage for the first time.
“I want to thank this university,” Zuñiga said. “It provided me a means to finish my education and become a first-generation college graduate … it gave me the means to become just one of many examples of successful upward mobility. Us Golden Eagles are pretty good at this, you know.”
Cal State LA is ranked number one in the nation for the upward mobility of its students.
Under Zuñiga’s leadership, Grifols collaborated with Cal State LA to offer the Grifols Summer Science Academy at Cal State LA, which has trained more than 80 high school students in microbiology, chemistry, and molecular work. The academy, which started in 2015, allows students to work in university laboratories under the guidance of Grifols professionals and Cal State LA faculty members.
Zuñiga, a member of the Cal State LA President’s Council, received the LA BioStar Award in 2018 from Cal State LA BioSpace for his contributions to the regional bioscience industry. In 2022, he was named Cal State LA’s Alumnus of the Year.
Throughout his career, Zuñiga has worked with Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Los Angeles Valley College, Los Angeles Mission College, and Citrus College to support their chemical technology, process technology, and biotechnology programs to recruit manufacturing technician candidates and to keep top talent in the region.
He has also served on the executive board of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation and the city of Los Angeles’ Workforce Investment Board, now called the Workforce Development Board, working with the mayor and city council to develop strategic initiatives for regional development and training.
During his remarks, Zuñiga shared advice with the Class of 2023, encouraging them to present their best selves each day and in each interaction, always having backup plans for when life inevitably happens, and finding ways to pay it forward and help others.
“I consider myself a very fortunate individual,” Zuñiga said. “I had the privilege of working in an amazing industry. I enjoyed going to work every single day. I made a good living that allowed me to take care of my family, and I was able to provide others with a better quality of life.”
“I wish similar successes for each and every one of you,” he said to the graduates. “Congratulations and thank you for listening.”
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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.