Commencement Ceremony Set for May 6
Oklahoma City University will award an honorary degree and confer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees to more than 800 students during two ceremonies May 6 in the Henry J. Freede Wellness and Activity Center, located at N.W. 27th Street and Florida Avenue (building #440 on the campus map).
Michelle Millben — OCU alumna, performing artist, pastor, lawyer, congressional staffer, an official in the U.S. government and Miss Black Oklahoma 2005 — will give the commencement address during the undergraduate ceremony at 11 a.m.
Associate professor and Psychology Department Chairwoman Melissa Hakman, winner of this year’s OCU Outstanding Faculty Award, will give the address during the graduate commencement ceremony at 3 p.m.
During the undergraduate ceremony, the university will bestow an honorary degree to Celin Romero, classical guitarist. The university awarded an honorary doctor of business administration to Marc Wong Yee Thiam, a business and civic leader in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in the fall; and the university will award a posthumous honorary doctor of performing arts in American dance to Harold Nicholas, a legendary tap dancer and motion picture star, prior to the graduation ceremony. Ron Raines, a performer on television, musical theater and opera, will be awarded an honorary doctor of musical arts at a later date.
The OCU School of Law hooding and commencement ceremony will be at 2 p.m. May 14 at the Freede Center on the main campus. Mike Turpen, law firm partner, former attorney general of Oklahoma (1983-87) and member of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, will be the commencement speaker.
About the commencement speakers —
Since graduating from OCU with a music performance degree in 2005, Millben has been a performing artist, pastor, congressional staffer and an official in the U.S. government.
Millben has taken her musical talents across the country, providing background vocals for Bruce Springsteen’s Super Bowl halftime show in 2009 and HBO’s concert on the National Mall for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. In addition, Millben has appeared as a singer in TNT’s ‘‘Christmas in Washington’’ and has provided background vocals alongside music legends such as Sting, Beyonce, James Taylor, Mavis Staples, Steven Tyler, Carrie Underwood, Heart, Garth Brooks and fellow OCU alumna Kelli O’Hara in the annual Kennedy Center Honors.
While a student at OCU, Millben assumed the role of youth pastor for a church in Oklahoma City, where for almost six years she served as an advocate for arts education, students in underserved communities and incarcerated students. During this time, she founded an after-school program for teens that provided academic tutoring, sports and performing arts programs. She also served as an academic advisor for OCU's Clara Luper Scholars.
Millben became the first woman from OCU to win the Miss Black Oklahoma pageant, in 2005, and she used the platform to continue her advocacy. She was recognized by the Oklahoma State Legislature in 2006 for her dedication to bettering youth in the state.
Millben attended law school at the University of Oklahoma. She studied at the Georgetown University Law Center as a visiting student during her third year of law school and was later awarded her juris doctor from OU in 2009. That same year, Millben officially moved to Washington, D.C., where she served as a staffer in the U.S. Congress in the House Judiciary Committee. After almost five years in Congress, she was recruited to the executive branch of the U.S. government, where she served as an official in the Department of Justice and as an advisor to President Obama on matters related to the U.S. Congress.
Millben has continued her service to youth and families since moving to Washington. She has served as a commissioner in the Commonwealth of Virginia for the City of Alexandria’s Redevelopment and Housing Authority, and on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, D.C. area. She has also remained a committed member of the clergy by serving as an associate minister at the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church in Virginia.
She is a 2016 graduate of President Obama’s Leadership Workshop, and she is a 2014 graduate of the Political Leaders Program at the bipartisan Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. She was awarded the Dawn Lawson Leadership Development Award from the Virginia Leadership Institute, and was also awarded the Oliver Hill Award for Social Activism by the National Black Law Students Association for her efforts in battling against social injustices.
Melissa Hakman is an associate professor and chairwoman of the Department of Psychology and director of the Child Advocacy Studies Training (CAST) program.
Hakman received her PhD in psychology from Oklahoma State University. She completed her predoctoral internship at the Virginia Treatment Center for Children through the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center (formerly Medical College of Virginia). She began her teaching career at the University of Richmond before joining the faculty at Western Kentucky University, where she received the Outstanding Teaching Award in Psychology.
Hakman started the CAST program at OCU, the only program of its kind in Oklahoma. This program provides students with specialized training in multidisciplinary responses to child abuse and neglect to help prevent child maltreatment cases from being overlooked or mishandled. It brings real life experiences to the classroom setting, allowing students to develop specific skills to respond and advocate for children and families within various agencies and systems. Hakman is also responsible for the expansion of the undergraduate psychology internship program that allows students to gain real-life experience working in hospitals, agencies and other businesses.
Hakman’s research examines child and adolescent behavior, adolescent nonsuicidal self-injury, and parent-child interactions in traditional and nontraditional families, including families in which child maltreatment has occurred. Her research is published in various journals including Infant Child Development and Child Abuse and Neglect. She regularly presents her research at regional and national conferences.
As a licensed clinical psychologist, Hakman provides part-time outpatient psychotherapy services to children, adolescents and their families, and conducts comprehensive psychological evaluations through the Department of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC). She is routinely invited to provide continuing education workshops across the state on mental health topics for professionals working in various capacities in behavioral health care for agencies such as the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Oklahoma Juvenile Personnel Training Program.
About the honorary degree recipients —
Honorary Doctor of Musical Arts
Celin Romero was born in Málaga, Spain, during the Spanish civil war and is the elder son of Maestro Celedonio Romero and Angelita Ines Romero. His father taught him guitar and he first performed in public at the age of 7 at the Radio National de España in Málaga.
Known to millions as “The Royal Family of the Guitar,” the Romero quartet was originally an idea of Celin and was consequently founded by his father together with his two brothers in 1958. Season after season, in countless appearances, he demonstrates his own personal style as a soloist, in duo recitals with his brother or son, and as one of the famous quartet group.
In 1957, Romero came with his family to the United States. Within two years, he and the family settled in Southern California and became known as the “Royal Family of Guitar.”
The quartet’s first tour of the U.S. included performances at Chicago Orchestra Hall, San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, Boston Symphony Hall, followed immediately with performances on the Ed Sullivan Show, at Carnegie Hall and at the Hollywood Bowl. They have also appeared with several major symphony orchestras around the world.
In 2000, Juan Carlos I, king of Spain, knighted Romero and his brothers with the “Gran Cruz de la Orden de Isabel de la Cathólica,” which is the highest possible civilian honor given in Spain. In 2007, the Romeros were granted the Recording Academy’s President’s Merit Award from the GRAMMYs in honor of their artistic achievements.
Honorary Doctor of Performing Arts
Harold Nicholas and his older brother were known for their American tap at an early age. Nicholas began dancing at age 5 at black vaudeville houses in Philadelphia. In 1930, he and his brother had their debut on the radio show “Horn & Hardart Kiddie House.”
The Nicholas brothers danced in vaudeville, on Broadway, in nightclubs, on television, Europe and the New York dance scene for 20 years. They were known for dancing in movie musicals, which made them internationally famous.
Nicholas appeared in more than 50 films, from 1932 to 1989. “Stormy Weather,” an all-black 20th Century Fox musical, showcased the brothers’ fast footwork and leaps and splits. Fred Astaire told them the “Jumping Jive” dance was the greatest movie musical number he had ever seen.
He and his brother called their work “classical tap.” It incorporated elements of ballet and at the same time, they danced with their whole bodies. Their last film together was “The Pirate” (1948), in which Gene Kelly broke the color bar by dancing with them.
Nicholas also appeared as a solo artist in films including “Uptown Saturday Night” (1974), “Tap” (1989), and “The Five Heartbeats” (1991).
Nicholas died July 3, 2000, of heart failure following surgery. He will be honored posthumously with an honorary doctor degree at Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment’s honors and awards banquet on April 28.
In February 2002 his brother, Fayard, received an honorary doctor degree in performing arts in American dance from OCU along with eight living black tap artist legends during Black History month.
Marc Wong Yee Thiam
Honorary Doctor of Business Administration
Marc Wong, who earned an MBA from OCU in 1995, is a business and civic leader in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
He has served as the president of the OCU-Malaysian Alumni Association and was recently elected to serve another two-year term beginning in 2017. In 1998, Wong received the OCU Distinguished Alumni Award, and in 2001 he received the Most Outstanding President of the OCU Alumni Award. He hosted Miss America 1996, Shantel Smith, to raise funds for the Spastic Children Association, and he hosted Kyle Dillingham and Peter Markes (two OCU graduates from the Bass School of Music) during a tour they made in 2000 when they performed for the king and queen of Malaysia.
Wong is the regional sales and marketing manager for Sanofi Bio Industries in Asia. His career has been marked by high sales growth performance with an innovative management style.
He has been linked to various organizations such as the Malaysian Red Crescent Society, Malaysian American Society, National Heart Foundation and the Tun Abdul Hamid Scholarship Trust Fund.
Honorary Doctor of Musical Arts
Ron Raines is a 2012 Tony and Grammy Award nominee for the acclaimed production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies,” which he starred in opposite Bernadette Peters. Raines has also starred on Broadway as Daddy Warbucks in “Annie,” Joseph Pulitzer in “Newsies,” Billy Flynn in “Chicago,” Gaylord Ravenal in “Show Boat” and Nick Longworth in “Teddy & Alice.” Raines has also appeared in “A Little Night Music” opposite Leslie Uggams, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” opposite Debbie Reynolds and “Can Can” opposite Chita Rivera.
Raines has been a soloist with more than 60 major American and international orchestras, including the Boston Pops, the Philly Pops, the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony and the Israel Philharmonic. He has also performed at Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood, and London’s Palladium, and their Royal Festival Hall. He has appeared on four PBS “Great Performances,” and has recorded numerous cast albums as well as two solo CDs on the Jay Records label. Born in Texas City, Texas, and raised throughout east Texas, Raines graduated from Oklahoma City University and later attended The Juilliard School. He was a three-time Emmy nominee for his role as the nefarious Alan Spaulding on CBS’s longest running daytime drama “Guiding Light.” Raines has appeared on CBS primetime in “Elementary,” “Person of Interest” and “The Good Wife.”