Oscar Award Winning Actress Rita Moreno to Speak at SJSU EOP Gala

Rita Moreno 2015 Austin Hargrave Photographer

Rita Moreno (photo by Austin Hargrave)

Media Contact:
Pat Lopes Harris, 408-924-1748, pat.harris@sjsu.edu

SAN JOSE, CA – Rita Moreno, the Puerto Rico native who defied ethnic stereotypes while earning all of America’s highest awards for entertainers, will be the guest of honor and keynote speaker at San Jose State University’s first-ever Educational Opportunity Program Gala.

The event will begin at 6 p.m. Sept. 15 in the Student Union Ballroom. Tickets start at $125 and are available now for purchase. Proceeds will support EOP students in many ways, including emergency food and housing, as well as study abroad experiences.

“Rita Moreno is an excellent student of life,” said Debra Griffith, SJSU Associate Vice President for Transition and Retention Services. “Ms. Moreno worked hard to achieve her dreams. She continues to grow and lead the way. We’re thrilled she accepted our offer to speak at the EOP Gala, and believe her life story will inspire the entire San Jose State University community.”

Oscar, Grammy, Tony and Emmy Recipient

Raised in New York and residing in Berkeley, Calif., Moreno has maintained a leading presence on American stage and screen since securing her first role as a dancer at the age of 11 in the early 1940s. She went on to excel as an actress, singer and dancer, turning in performances that riveted the nation.

Known today among younger Latino performers as “La Pionera,” she starred in two Academy Award winning films, “The King and I” and “West Side Story.” She received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in the second film, which explores the rivalry between two street gangs. Yet she refused to succumb to stereotypes.

“The movie studios saw Moreno as only a Latina and pigeonholed her as an ‘ethnic,’” The Washington Post said. “At every stage, she has required fortitude, a fierce desire to create opportunities for herself and a willingness to take on just about anything.”

When a revolution in children’s programming produced “The Electric Company,” she joined the cast partly because she thought being on a show conveying a love of reading would help her daughter do the same. Viewers may recall her screaming the show’s opening line, “Hey you guys!”

Moreno received a Grammy for “The Electric Company Album,” a Tony for her performance in the groundbreaking Broadway musical “The Ritz,” and two Emmys for a guest appearance on “The Muppet Show” and the following year for a dramatic turn on “The Rockford Files.”

As cable emerged as a dramatic production powerhouse, Moreno accepted a role playing Sister Pete on the HBO prison series “Oz.” At the top of her industry through seven decades of change, Moreno has received our nation’s highest accolades: the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award.

EOP: Providing Opportunity

Founded in 1969, the Educational Opportunity Program at SJSU serves more than 2,000 students who are first in their families to attend college, including many from low-income and underserved communities. Recent initiatives include a five-week Summer Bridge program, which has helped push retention rates from the freshman to sophomore year, a critical predictor for college success, to over 95 percent.


About San Jose State University

The founding campus of the 23-campus California State University system, San José State provides a comprehensive university education, granting bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 145 areas of study with an additional 108 concentrations – offered through its eight colleges.

With more than 31,200 students and nearly 4,370 employees, San José State University continues to be an essential partner in the economic, cultural and social development of Silicon Valley and the state, annually contributing more than 7,000 graduates to the workforce.

The university is immensely proud of the accomplishments of its more than 220,000 alumni, 60 percent of whom live and work in the Bay Area.