Guest speaker Rita Moreno with NEIU Faculty and Staff

Monday, May 11, 2015



With her signature style, passion and flair, award-winning entertainer Rita Moreno encouraged graduates to continue learning and evolving throughout their lives during the Northeastern Illinois University Commencement ceremony on May 11, 2015, at UIC Pavilion.

“Surround yourself with those who love and support you, who believe in you,” Moreno said. “Don’t ever let anyone interfere with your dream or your focus or your vision. It belongs to you.”

Northeastern awarded Moreno an honorary doctorate degree in recognition of her outstanding achievements. She has won the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards.

“Northeastern Illinois University is proud to honor such an extraordinary individual and to invite her to become a part of the legacy of our university,” President Sharon Hahs said.

Comparing the feeling of receiving an honorary doctorate from Northeastern with her experience receiving an award from President Barack Obama, Moreno mixed humor and passion in her message to the graduates.

“It took me just two minutes to get a doctorate, and most of you at least four years,” she said. “Lesson No. 1: Life is not fair.”

Moreno cited Walt Disney, who was fired from a job as a newspaper editor, and Brad Pitt, who once was paid to dress as a chicken to attract customers to a restaurant, as role models of perseverance.

“I’m looking at you, and I’m not thinking only of the fact that you did it,” she said. “I’m also thinking of the people around you who made so many sacrifices for you. That’s pretty fabulous.”

Graduation, Moreno stressed, is not a symbol of “arrival.”

“This is not the end; this is absolutely the beginning for you,” she said. “To graduate is to change gradually. If you have not figured your life out yet, you just keep on graduating.”

Earlier in the ceremony, Hahs praised the University’s newest graduates—and also issued a three-point challenge:

  • Live life with integrity
  • Continue to embrace learning
  • Be good citizens and give back to society

“I congratulate you and I commend you for your accomplishments,” Hahs said. “You are the leaders of tomorrow, and with leadership comes responsibilities.”

Also at the Commencement ceremony

  • Northeastern presented Associate Professor of Biology Emina Stojkovic with Bernard J. Brommel Distinguished Research Professor Award.
  • Northeastern honored professors emeriti Theodora H. Bofman, Paul P. O’Hara, Janet L. Pariza and William J. Quinn.
  • Vice President for Institutional Advancement Melba Rodriguez presented the class gift of more than $3,400 to the NEIU Foundation.