Rosie Perez, activist, Academy Award-nominated actress, and Emmy-nominated choreographer, will share her inspirational story as the featured speaker at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown’s 41st annual Commencement ceremony. The ceremony, which will be presided over by Pitt-Johnstown President Dr. Jem Spectar, will honor 500 graduates who completed requirements for Bachelor Arts, Bachelor of Science, or Associate of Science degrees in August or December 2012, or are completing requirements in April or June of this year. Commencement will begin at 1 p.m., Saturday, April 27 in the Pitt-Johnstown Sports Center.
Throughout her career, Rosie Perez has been a vocal activist for a number of causes, especially those related to AIDS and inner-city youth. In 2010, President Obama appointed Perez to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. She is the head of the Artistic Board for the Urban Arts Partnership (formerly known as Working Playground), an arts education organization that brings dance, theater, film, poetry, and fine arts to students in Harlem, the Bronx, and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Perez also served as the National Spokesperson for Comite Noviembre Puerto Rican Heritage and was honored in New York during Puerto Rican and Hispanic Heritage Month.
As an actress and choreographer, Perez continues to shine in her varied roles in front of the camera, as well as behind it. On the big screen, Perez has starred in comedic and dramatic roles with both ease and acclaim, including Fearless (which garnered her a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination), Riding in Cars with Boys, Do the Right Thing, and It Could Happen to You, among many others. Her performance in Lackawanna Blues earned her a 2006 NAACP Image Award Nomination for Outstanding Actress in a TV Movie, Miniseries or Dramatic Special.
Perez also received critical acclaim for her directorial debut, Yo Soy Boricua Pa’Que Tu Lo Sepas!, a documentary that celebrates Puerto Rican pride. The documentary premiered at the Miami International Film Festival and was featured at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, where it was the highest-attended film.
Born Rosa Maria Perez to Puerto Rican parents in New York City, Perez originally wanted to be a marine biologist. A chance encounter with Spike Lee changed the course of her life when he hired her to act in his 1989 film Do the Right Thing, which explores what could happen when racial tensions explode on a hot summer day. She later appeared on 21 Jump Street and became the choreographer for the show In Living Color, which earned her three Emmy nominations.
She made her Broadway debut in the hit revival of Terence McNally’s “Frankie and Johnnie” and went on to star in Craig Lucas’ “Reckless” in the fall of 2004. She recently received rave reviews for her performance in “The Ritz” on Broadway.
As a producer, Perez’s credits include The 24-Hour Woman, HBO’s Rosie Perez Presents Society’s Ride, and Subway Stories.
In her address to the graduating class of 2013, Perez will emphasize the importance of being adaptable and taking risks in order to achieve success and fulfillment. By sharing her personal journey, she will inspire students to be creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial in their approach to both their personal and professional lives.
Founded in 1927, Pitt-Johnstown is located in the Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania and is the first and largest regional campus of the University of Pittsburgh. The University offers a high-quality educational experience in a supportive living-learning environment designed to prepare students for the real world of the 21st century. Pitt-Johnstown is recognized by the Princeton Review as a “Best in the Northeast” college, by G.I. Jobs as a “Military Friendly School,” and Pennsylvania Business Central as a "Top 100 Organization." Additionally, Pitt-Johnstown has been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the past three years.