OCC’s 2024 Commencement Speakers Announced

“Change Begins with Me” - Inspiring  Journeys of Change

Two Oakland Community College graduating students, Sarah Lefler and Gabrielle Rush, have been selected as the 2024 Commencement keynote speakers. Student keynote speakers repeats a new tradition started in 2023 that by all accounts, nods of agreement and tears, was highly inspiring for all.   

OCC graduating students Gabrielle Rush and Sarah Lefler will be the College's 2024 Commencement speakers.

“When looking for potential speakers who can serve as inspiration to our graduates and OCC community, we didn’t have to look far,” shared OCC Provost Dr. Jennifer Berne. “Our two student speakers come from different backgrounds but share a similar drive to push themselves, overcome challenges and make a difference in their lives and communities.” 

Lefler and Rush will each incorporate this year’s theme: “Change Starts with Us” in their remarks. The two students will address the more than 1,800 OCC graduates who earned an associate degree or certificate in applied science, arts, business administration, general studies or science.  

The event will be held Saturday, May 18, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.  at the Oakland University Athletics Center O’rena.  

About Sarah Lefler  

Degrees: Associate in Science, Associate in General Studies, Associate in Arts 

Lefler first attended college after high school but ended up dropping out. Instead, she got licensed as a veterinary technician and worked in the field for several years. However, she realized she was ready for a change. She felt she was settling and could make a bigger difference – for herself, her family and the veterinary field – and decided to go back to school.  

She especially wanted to show her daughters that it’s never too late to achieve your goals.  

“My favorite quote is from Robert Burns,” said Lefler. “‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. While my plans were put on hold, I was determined to achieve my goal of becoming a veterinarian.”  

A member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society, Lefler maintained her grades even as she faced significant challenges – including giving birth to her third daughter during a semester of classes. Today, she believes that she is more mature and a better student and is excited to make a difference in her field.  

After graduating from OCC, Lefler will attend veterinary school and plans to open her own clinic with an atmosphere that makes everyone want to work there – “where they can all be better to the pet patients and their human parents.” 

Lefler’s words of wisdom for fellow graduates: “You can change your plans and still succeed. It just matters that you continue to go for it.”  

About Gabrielle Rush  

Degree: Associate in Arts 

Rush’s journey has taken her through multiple states and different experiences. Growing up in suburban Chicago, she was passionate about helping her community through ministry.

She knew she wanted to create positive change but wasn’t sure how. When she arrived in Michigan as a 20-year-old single mother, Rush enrolled at OCC determined to find the answer.

Formative classes such as environmental science and history ignited a passion – and showed her a way she could translate her love of helping communities to a new vocation in economic development and urban planning. 

Last year, she transferred her OCC credits to Wayne State University and is now completing two bachelor’s degrees. Rush plans to go on to graduate school and become a community planner or work in the government sector. 

Her passion for helping her community runs deep. She has been active in efforts to revitalize Detroit, helps run a student-led consulting agency and has completed two key internships for the Environmental Protection Agency and TechTown Detroit. 

Rush’s words of wisdom for fellow graduates: “We need to be changemakers in our communities. Find something that drives you. Answer what is your why. Figure that out, then go for it.” 

For further information visit OCC Commencement.   

About OCC  

Oakland Community College offers nearly 100 degrees and certificates programs with the resources students need to be successful and advance our community. As a top transfer institution, OCC offers one of the state’s most affordable tuition rates and flexibility in scheduling with face-to-face and online options. The College is nationally recognized for its high-demand career training with expert faculty in their fields. More than 1 million students have enrolled in the College since it opened in 1965. Learn more at oaklandcc.edu.


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