UCLA Medal Presentation to Morton La Kretz


Welcome! I am so glad all of you have joined us tonight as we present the UCLA Medal to Morton La Kretz.

UCLA is, proudly, a public university. That identity is core to our mission. In all of our work — our research, teaching and service — our commitment is always to the public good. Advancing the public good cannot be done in isolation. It truly takes a village.

So, UCLA relies on partnerships with like-minded institutions as well as civic, philanthropic and business leaders who are determined to make our communities more just, more healthy and more whole.

Morton La Kretz is exactly the kind of forward-thinking leader who is vital to the success of our public mission, and I am delighted to honor him today.

It is no secret that one of the greatest, most urgent challenges of our time is how we protect our natural environment. We know that climate change is real and happening now. We feel its effects, we understand its dangers, and we see the devastation caused by natural disasters occurring more frequently across California, our nation and the world. Look at some of the most vexing issues of our time — drought, hunger, refugee migration — and you will find that climate change is part of the story.

And, while we are fortunate to live in one of the most environmentally progressive states in the U.S., we as a country and a global community are struggling to curb the effects of harmful emissions.

Every community, every institution, and every individual must do their part. No individual takes this more seriously than Morton La Kretz, whose devotion to these issues is a continual inspiration.

Morton understands the urgent need to innovate, conserve and educate. He understands that sound research and decisive action can and do make a real difference.

Morton’s leadership and philanthropy are testaments to his belief that the true measure of a life is not what you get, but what you give.

The seeds he has planted for the future will indeed benefit generations to come. His vision and generosity have already had an immeasurable positive impact as we strive to address our changing climate and ensure a livable future.

All across UCLA, there are lasting physical manifestations of his commitment, perhaps most notably at La Kretz Hall, which provides a home for the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and its critical work.  And, more recently, his philanthropy has helped breathe new life into the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, one of our campus treasures. Of course, we also just had the pleasure of celebrating the completion of the first renovations at the La Kretz Botany Building.

His generosity is not limited to the boundaries of our campus. Morton has lent his support and name to worthy initiatives throughout our region that are at the forefront of environmental innovation, education and research. In the Santa Monica Mountains, his endowment makes vital conservation science possible and provides conservation education for thousands of school children at Tree People. Farther east, his support for an exciting innovation incubator downtown is advancing clean technologies and L.A.’s green economy. And at Cal State L.A., he is strengthening biochemistry, biology and environmental science research and programs.

Throughout our city, he has worked to restore historic landmarks, revitalize the L.A. river and changed our consciousness about our connection — and obligations — to the natural environment.

All of this to say: Morton is a truly remarkable advocate and philanthropist, with the foresight and willingness to take bold chances and make bold decisions to protect the public good.

The son of Eastern European immigrants, Morton grew up in Boyle Heights during the Depression, and was the first in his family to attend college — and one of the few from his high school who did. He briefly paused his UCLA education during World War II to serve two years in the Navy, where he was trained as an electronics technician. He earned his B.A. in psychology from UCLA in 1948.

It is especially heartening to know that Morton attributes many of his achievements to his time spent at UCLA. Morton has said that while here, he obtained “knowledge, confidence, a sense of accomplishment and polish.”

In the 70 years — 70! — since Morton graduated, he has consistently reflected the deepest values and the highest ideals of UCLA, and we are truly grateful.

There is a Greek proverb that very aptly describes Morton: “Society grows great when men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

Morton is not only helping us plant trees. He’s also building bridges — figuratively and literally. He’s creating momentum and inspiring others to follow his lead. His compassion, his conscientiousness and his concern for the future set an example for all, and make us optimistic that we can, together, solve our environmental challenges and improve our planet.

It is now my great honor to welcome to the stage, Morton La Kretz!

Before we present you with the UCLA Medal, our campus’ highest honor, I’d like everyone to hear this citation, which reads:


As a champion of environmental conservation, sustainability and clean technology, you have had a profound and transformative impact on Los Angeles and California. Your contributions have also helped advance UCLA’s status as a world-class university, promoting education, research and public awareness about issues critical to our future. You have not only enriched your alma mater, but you have contributed significantly to a thriving green economy that will help ensure a vibrant future for our city — making it a better place to live and work for many generations to come. For your unfailing commitment to protecting and improving our natural environment, and for your dedication to advancing education, we proudly bestow upon you the UCLA Medal. Given at UCLA this twenty-fourth day of October, 2018.