Moreno began with the story of how her mom wanted her to have a better life than she had, so she brought Moreno to the U.S. from Puerto Rico. She didn't speak any English, but she got a job and raised Moreno on her own.
Moreno talked about what she knows well, the history of movies, television, and theater. She has found success in all three areas.
"In the beginning, the motion picture industry was not a stable business," Moreno said, "and the only people willing to take the risks were immigrants."
Without any experience in the field, those immigrants started the major movie studios including Universal Studios, Columbia and Warner Brothers.
"When motion pictures were first taking off, actors were owned by the movie studios and told what films to do, Moreno said. "Sometimes actors were loaned out to other studios for high prices and the actors never saw any of that money."
Despite the downside to the movie business, Moreno stuck with it and urged other young people to live their dreams too. She also Moreno praised and criticized the television industry.
"When I see the violence, sex and profanity on television I'm discouraged," Moreno said, "but when I think of a little girl on the poor side of town sitting in front of the TV counting to 10 with 'Sesame Street,' I am more hopeful."
Moreno also pointed out that TV has raised awareness on important social issues.
"Television has educated people about health issues like AIDS and breast cancer," Moreno said. "It's shown us the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam and Watergate."
Moreno hopes television will elevate us in ways not yet known. Moreno says theater is the best medium for winning audience involvement.
"From the moment the curtains open, you're one with the cast, not like TV or movies can give," Moreno said. "Theater makes the audience part of the event."
Moreno has played a variety of roles, breaking the mold of the stereotypical Latino roles that she portrayed in her early years.
Her role as Anita in the movie "West Side Story" won an Academy Award and paved the way for her later work in movies and television. In television, she's best known for her role as a streetwise nun in the HBO series "Oz."
Her most recent Broadway appearance is in the London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard."
A small but appreciative crowd of 200 attended Moreno's speech.
UNC Pembroke wraps up this year's Distinguished Speaker Series with Pembroke native Kelvin Sampson, a nationally recognized basketball coach at the University of Oklahoma.
Sheri Sides is a junior journalism major at UNCP.