Stage and screen star Rita Moreno visits campus to give the Pierce Lecture.

Hollywood legend Rita Moreno charmed the campus community in April when she delivered the Spring 2023 Susan Resneck Pierce Lecture and spoke to a class. Now 91, Moreno is perhaps best known for playing Anita in the 1961 film West Side Story, a role that earned her an Academy Award for best supporting actress— and made her the first Latina to win an Oscar.

Born in Puerto Rico, she moved to the U.S. with her mother at age 5. “I learned very quickly, with language, it was either sink or swim,” she told an audience in Schneebeck Hall. “I wanted to swim. So I learned English very quickly.”

She recalled performing at a dance recital in New York City at age 15; after the recital, an MGM talent scout in attendance gave her mother his business card. “I’m not sure she’s ready yet,” he said, “but I want to give you my card as I believe she may have a future at MGM.” Says Moreno: “I damn near peed in my pants!”

Moreno, who has earned Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards, has also received the Kennedy Center Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Medal of Arts, among other honors. For her lecture, she was joined onstage in a Q&A format by Andrew Gomez, associate professor of history. She also fielded audience questions: Asked who her favorite current actors are, she mentioned Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper, and Cate Blanchett. And, asked if she sees herself ever slowing down, she offered a quick and emphatic response: “Hell no!”