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OCC honors scholarship donors, recipients at annual celebration

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Farmington Press | Published March 19, 2013

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FARMINGTON HILLS — There are few things in life as meaningful or as appreciated as a heartfelt “thank you.”

On March 14, faculty, students and administrators gathered to share a meal and stories, and to celebrate the art of gratitude during the Oakland Community College annual scholarship luncheon. The 21st annual lunch, prepared by students enrolled in the college’s award-winning Culinary Studies Institute, honored the school’s many scholarship recipients and the generous donors who made the awards possible.

“This is one of the high points of the college calendar, the other being graduation,” said OCC Communications Director George Cartsonis. “There are just so many smiling faces.”

Nearly 200 guests attended the event hosted by the Oakland Community College Foundation, the college’s scholarship organization, which collects funds from private, corporate and philanthropic groups, as well as alumni, to provide opportunities for students in need and support other special programs.

The day’s festivities began with remarks from veteran Detroit radio personality Bob Allesee, also known as Bob Allison, who sits on the OCC Foundation board of directors and served as master of ceremonies for the event.

Following a warm welcome from Chancellor Timothy Meyer and a prose performance by forensics student Kayla Green came the highlight of the celebration: testimonials from past and current OCC students whose educations were made possible because of foundation scholarships.

Among the scholarship recipients to speak was OCC nursing student Jacara Williams, of Detroit, who shared her heartfelt tale of struggle to make it to college when she didn’t think she had the money to pay tuition.

“My mother always stressed the importance of education,” said Williams with tears in her eyes, explaining that her family couldn’t afford to pay her way. “I applied for scholarships every semester, and it really does make a difference, especially for low-income families and people who just don’t think they can do it.”

Later, retired faculty member and scholarship donor Dennis Fiems addressed the crowd about his annual gift to the foundation. The textbook scholarship, in honor of his late wife and former OCC instructor Susan Fiems, is one of the largest gifts on college record. He talked about how the scholarship means as much to him as it does the recipients from year to year.

“The OCC family has been interwoven into our lives,” said Fiems, who taught at the college alongside his wife for a combined total of 52 years. “For us — for me — this is a chance to give back to an institution that’s been so good to me and my family.” 

Sitting in the audience listening to the testimonials was business student Sheryl Underwood, of Northville. At 56 years old, Underwood said she’s grateful to be given the chance to return to school as a mature student with the help of the foundation’s “Golf for Scholarships” endowed scholarship.

“Being an older student with a lot of part-time jobs, I thought it was a great opportunity. I was lucky enough to get the golf scholarship,” said Underwood, who added that, when she graduates in April, she plans to seek full-time employment, hopefully in Detroit. Recently, she participated in an OCC–sponsored essay contest centered on the topic of the city’s restoration. After completing the project, she said, she was inspired by what she learned and would like to be a part of Detroit’s resurgence.

In all, 296 students received scholarships for the 2012-13 academic year.

To learn more about the OCC Foundation, visit www.OaklandCC.edu/Foundation.

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