Guest speaker Rita Moreno with Provost Richard J. Helldobler

Monday, May 11, 2015

Award-winning actress Rita Moreno will be the speaker for Northeastern Illinois University’s spring Commencement ceremony to be held at 4 p.m. May 11 at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. Moreno belongs to an elite group of performers, having won each of the entertainment industry's most prestigious awards: the Oscar, the Emmy, the Tony and the Grammy.

During a morning press conference at the Warwick Allerton Hotel, Moreno addressed media in English and Spanish. When asked about her advice for someone entering performing arts today, Moreno said, “Education, education, education, for everybody, because there’s no guarantee that simply because you have talent, that you’re going to be a star and be able to support yourself. If you get to be a star, that’s extraordinary. Really, it’s very difficult.

“You have to pay the rent. You have to eat. You have to buy clothing for yourself. How are you going to do that? The only way to do that is to get an education. You need a skill aside from being a wonderful actor or a wonderful singer. ... Education is everything, speaking from the point of view of someone who never finished high school.”

During Northeastern’s Commencement ceremony, Moreno will be awarded an honorary doctorate degree in recognition of her outstanding achievements. The ceremony, which is closed to the general public, will be streamed live.

Moreno was joined at the press conference by Richard J. Helldobler, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Maria Luna-Duarte, Interim Director of Northeastern’s new El Centro.

“Rita Moreno embodies much of what is Northeastern,” Helldobler said. “As one of the most diverse campuses in the Midwest and a Hispanic Serving Institution, we uniquely believe that we transform the lives of the next generation of leaders. Like Ms. Moreno who has transformed her own career from the silver screen, into television, music and Broadway and won all the major awards in those genres, during a time when opportunities for Latinos were limited, she truly is an inspiration to our students and the world.”

Born Rosa Dolores Alverio in the Puerto Rican town of Humacao, Moreno moved with her mother to New York at age 5 and began dance lessons. At age 13, she made her Broadway debut in “Skydrift.” In true Hollywood tradition, she was spotted by a talent scout and signed to a film contract by MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer.

Her Hollywood career advanced steadily, including roles in “Singin’ in the Rain” with Gene Kelly, and “The King and I” with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. After being awarded the Oscar and the Golden Globe in 1962 for her portrayal of Anita in “West Side Story,” Moreno was acknowledged as a major big-screen talent.

Creative diversity is the hallmark of Moreno's nearly 70-year career, which includes theater, television, cabaret, concerts and a bestselling memoir. She gives lectures on topics such as “The Value of Diversity to our Culture” and “The Power of Language,” and is involved with numerous civic and charitable organizations and events.

Over her career, Moreno has been presented with dozens of show business awards, as well as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1995. In 2014, she was honored as the 50th recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.