Rita Moreno, an award-winning actress, singer, and dancer, will be the Class of 2008’s commencement speaker.
Many students have not heard of Moreno, either as a performer or as a speaker.”Who’s Rita Moreno?” asked Erica Valenti, a senior. It’s a common response.
Moreno played Anita in the film West Side Story, and is best noted for creating Anita as a strong, intelligent female character that earned her an Oscar and Golden Globe, the first in six decades of appreciation for her work.
Moreno is the only female performer to have won all four of the most prestigious show business awards: the Oscar, the Emmy, the Tony and the Grammy.
Senior Hayley Wise said, “I’m very interested to hear what she has to say.”
Moreno has also been distinguished outside of the entertainment community. In 2004, President Bush awarded her the country’s highest civilian award, The Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“She’s a national treasure,” said Renee Jadushlever, vice president of Operations. “I think the accomplishments of her life will be an inspiration for the students to hear about.”
Other individuals considered for this year’s commencement speaker include Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, according to Janet Holmgren, president of the College.
“I still hope that Ms. Pelosi will be a commencement speaker in future years,” said President Holmgren, “but we’ve had a lot of speakers in the political world in the past and I’m so thrilled to have a great woman in the arts to speak to our graduating seniors.”
It’s a common feeling in commencements at great universities across the country. Harvard’s speaker is J. K. Rowling; last year Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the speaker at Northwestern. Although she’s received an honorary degree at many other colleges, this is the first time Moreno has been a commencement speaker.
“We look for speakers who will serve as models of the kind of leaders we know [the students] will become,” said Jadushlever.
Moreno was honored as a commissioner in the White House Fellowship, a prestigious American program for leadership and public service, in 2004. Last December, she was inducted into the California Hall of Fame by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Senior Sara Liner said, “I’ve gone to commencements in the past and the speakers are always really great. I wish we could have more than one.”
Moreno lives in the Bay Area and is active in a number of local civic and charitable organizations. She leant her talents to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in their production of The Glass Menagerie, in 2006. A few years ago, Letters professor Ken Burke saw Moreno perform a set at the Alameda County Fair, in Pleasanton.
“She was great,” said Burke. “And that’s just a few examples of how someone so notable makes herself available to her local community.”
Moreno was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico on Dec. 11, 1931. She moved to New York City with her mother at age six, but never let go of her Puerto Rican roots.
“She loves her culture,” said President Holmgren. “She really thinks about the roles she takes and the message they send.”
“She’s unique in the range of her skills,” Burke said, “But [more than that], she’s a role model for anyone who’s determi-ned to realize their inner visions.”