Isaac Larian tells graduating class to work hard, think big, be successful

Isaac Larian

Cal State L.A. alumnus and international businessman Isaac Larian told graduating students on Friday that they can be successful if they work hard, follow their dreams and have confidence in their abilities.

Larian was the keynote speaker during the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology’s Commencement at the University Athletic Stadium. The celebration attracted thousands of students, family and friends.

“Everything in life happens for a reason,” Larian said, recounting lessons he learned from his childhood growing up in a hardscrabble neighborhood in Tehran, Iran to his experiences dealing with executives in the rough and tumble world of international business.

Larian came to the United States at the age of 17 with $750 in his pocket. He worked at night parking cars and washing dishes while attending Cal State L.A. during the day. In 1978, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering.

After graduating, Larian launched a business selling brass lawn ornaments and later expanded into importing electronics, including Nintendo’s early hand-held video game systems. He is chief executive officer of MGA Entertainment, a toy company that designed the successful Bratz Dolls, Moxy Girlz and Teenz.

He was named last year on the Forbes Billionaires List, and he was honored with Cal State L.A.’s Alumnus of the Year award in 2005.

During the commencement, Larian recounted being a member of the only Jewish family in a tough neighborhood that lacked running water and electricity. He was beaten up by other youth walking to school.

He said his mother scolded him when he came home after being assaulted. “She said I needed to fight back and defend myself,” Larian said. “And fight back I did.”

He gained respect in his neighborhood and learned a valuable lesson along the way.

“Everything in life happens for a reason,” Larian told students, explaining that being tough as a child prepared him to be tough as a businessman.

“My friends, these stories are what I call accidents of life,” Larian said.  “I was able to have enough confidence in myself to look forward.”

Larian never worked as an engineer, but he told students that engineering is the “best education one can get in life” because if focuses on problem solving. His comments drew applause from the students.

Working multiple jobs while attending Cal State L.A., Larian said, also taught him an important lesson. “There is no substitute for hard work.”

As he closed his keynote address, he reminded students that life is short.

“Follow your dreams. Life goes by so quickly,” Larian said. “Live your life and not someone else’s.”

Photo: Alumnus and businessman Isaac Larian urged Cal State L.A. students to work hard and follow their dreams during the University’s 68th Commencement. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State L.A.)


Cal State L.A. is a university dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 24,000 students and 235,000 distinguished alumni, who are as diverse as the city we serve. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, Cal State L.A. has long been recognized as an engine of economic and social mobility. Led by an award-winning faculty, the University offers nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and the humanities.

Cal State L.A. 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, TV, Film and Media Center and the Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good. For more information, visit, or like us at