Philanthropist and entertainment mogul David Geffen was awarded the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest honor, during the Hippocratic Oath Ceremony for Geffen School of Medicine graduates on May 30.
Presented by UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, who described the prize as “super-select,” Geffen became the latest addition to a diverse list of recipients that includes Bill and Hillary Clinton and architect Frank Gehry.
Accepting the award, Geffen told the 200 graduates assembled on the lawn outside Perloff Hall, “I went here, too — sort of …”
He recalled the time he first visited the UCLA campus, where Geffen’s brother was a second-year law school student, just after his own high school graduation in 1960.
“I remember walking around this campus wishing I had worked hard enough to attend this school,” Geffen said.
Not that the future mogul would let a trifling acceptance letter get in his way. On the application to work in the mailroom of the William Morris Agency, one of his first entertainment jobs, Geffen lied and said he had graduated from UCLA.
“Every single day I came in [to work] early, waiting for the letter that would reveal to my boss I was not a college graduate,” he said. Geffen eventually intercepted the letter confirming his absence from the UCLA student database.
“I stuffed it in my pocket, saved it and framed it,” he said proudly, knowing his mischievous tale is now the stuff of Hollywood legend. “So, you can see, from the very beginning of my career, UCLA was very important to me!”
The prestigious medal, created in 1979, served as a tribute to Geffen’s entertainment career as well as his philanthropic achievements. In 2002, Geffen made history when he announced the largest single donation ever to a U.S. medical school, a $200 million unrestricted gift to the UCLA School of Medicine, which was swiftly renamed the Geffen School of Medicine. A decade later, he gave an additional $100 million to fund merit-based scholarships covering the entire cost of medical school, enabling an estimated 20 percent of future students to graduate debt-free.
Whether out of sheer generosity or penance for his rascally past, Geffen confessed, “Now I am in a position to repay UCLA.
“It is not possible for me to exaggerate how proud I am to have my name associated with this incredible institution,” he said in closing. “My mom always told me, ‘If you have your health, you have everything,’ [and] it turns out, she was right.”