Berklee College of Music kicked off the commencement season Saturday, sending some 900 graduates (from 68 countries) off into the world of work and play. Delivering hard-earned words of wisdom at Agganis Arena was star of stage, screen, and TV Rita Moreno. (The 84-year-old actress, who’s currently working on the Netflix remake of Norman Lear’s classic sitcom “One Day at a Time,” is the only Latina performer who’s won an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, and a Tony.) Joining Moreno on the dais and receiving honorary degrees were Ronald and Ernie Isley of the Isley Brothers, Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grainge, and Brazilian singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento. We chatted with Moreno before her talk to the graduates.
Q. Congratulations on your honorary Doctor of Music degree. Do you have room on your mantle for another award?
A. I am absolutely thrilled. There’s always room, but it’s no longer a mantle. They’re on shelves in my living room. Every once in a while, I stop and look at all this hardware and I think “Wow, who’d a thunk?’’ My goal in life was not to get Oscars. My goal in life was to work as an actress.
Q. You’ve said that “Every good performer is always nervous. Anybody who’s not is brain dead.’’
A. I still get very, very nervous on opening nights. I just did the first episode of “One Day at a Time’’ before an audience. My hands were icy cold and sweaty, really disgusting. Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and say, “Why don’t you just retire?’’ But, more often than not, when that first laugh happens, you breathe a sigh
Q. With your seven decades in show business, young performers should hang on your every word. When you give a speech to graduates and aspiring performers, what advice do you give them?
A. My speech [at Berklee] is gonna cause an uproar because I’m gonna do it in rap! I’ve done rap before when I was honoring Morgan Freeman. And I’m gonna send a copy to (“Hamilton’’ creator) Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s gonna fall on the floor. The most important [piece of advice] is to get yourself educated and be tough enough to get knocked down, brush yourself off, and keep moving. The tough thing for people in the arts is that you have to hang on to your sensitivity and tender side. Every job is hard to get, but in our profession, there’s a preponderance of rejection.
Q. In addition to your EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony), you have a Golden Globe, the Kennedy Center Honors, a memoir, two recordings, a fabulous Target commercial, a recurring role on the TV show “Jane the Virgin,” the voice of the grandmother on the animated show “Nina’s World,” and you’re in production for the remake of “One Day at a Time.” Is there anything on a Rita Moreno bucket list?
A. More of the same. I’m 84 and have all these amazing things plus a SAG Life Achievement Award. I just finished guest spots on “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Grace and Frankie,” and I just made a small movie called “Remember Me” that’s quite funny and poignant.
Q. Would you please run for president?
A. Hell no. I think the GOP is in a huge passel of trouble. All of this extremism has happened because they allowed the Tea Party extreme right wing to get a toehold. . . . They did this to themselves.
Q. In addition to being a mother and grandmother, you play a mother and grandmother on TV. Do you have any motherly advice on Mother’s Day?
A. The greatest gift you can give your child is your understanding and your kindness. Help them to understand that there are no conditions on which they have to be loved by you. You must remind them of that. My mother loved me very much, but there were always conditions.
Q. Well, I now forgive you for stealing Bernardo from me in “West Side Story.”
A. (Laughing) He and I are still buddies. He’s my daughter’s godfather. And he’s still quite good looking.
Watch a video of Moreno at the commencement:
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Also seen at Berklee’s gradation was Glorai Estefan and her husband Emilio, whose daughter Emily graduated.Names can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.