Spring 2018

Undergraduate Commencement Speakers


9:00 a.m. Ceremony
College of Education, Health & Aviation
College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources 
12:00 p.m. Ceremony  
College of Human Sciences
College of Engineering, Architecture & Technology

Speaker Lee Cockerell - Retired, Executive VP of Operations for Walt Disney World Resort
6:00 p.m. Ceremony  
Spears School of Business
Speaker Jennifer Grigsby - Executive VP & CFO of Ascent Resources
 

Ross McKnight 
CEO of RoMac Gas Company

Ross McKnight is a banker, rancher, oilman, and philanthropist who lives in Throckmorton, Texas, where he was born and raised.

McKnight received his Bachelor of Science degree from Oklahoma State University in 1971. In 1996 McKnight received the OSU Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award, and in 1998 was selected the Graduate of Distinction by the OSU Department of Animal Science and subsequently the College of Agriculture. He was inducted into the OSU Alumni Hall of Fame in 2006. McKnight served as Chairman of the Oklahoma State University Foundation from 2001 thru 2003 and has been selected as the OSU Foundation’s first Honorary Trustee.
 
McKnight has chaired or co-chaired two of the three major philanthropic campaigns at OSU, the Stadium Campaign where $360 million was raised to rebuild what is now known as Boone Pickens Stadium, and in 2010 he co-chaired with his wife, Billie, the $1 billion “Branding Success” campaign for Oklahoma State University which raised in excess of $1.2 billion. He and Billie established and endowed the $10 million McKnight Scholarship program for rural youth attending OSU. In 2015 the McKnights gave $25 million to endow performances at the new McKnight Center for the Performing Arts at OSU.
 
In 2016, Ross and Billie received the Henry G. Bennett Distinguished Service Award from Oklahoma State University, the highest award given by OSU and the first given in 14 years.
 
McKnight has grown his ranching and agriculture enterprise from an inherited 500-hundred acres to its current 57,000 acres plus ownership of two cattle feed yards in the Texas Panhandle. McKnight is CEO of RoMac Gas Company, a natural gas gathering system, and RoMac Oil Company, an oil and gas exploration and production company. McKnight is Chairman of the Board and majority shareholder of a closely held bank holding company, Olney BancShares of Texas, which owns InterBank, a $3.5 billion bank serving forty-three communities in Texas and Oklahoma. McKnight was instrumental in the writing and passage of federal legislation that permits banks to be Sub Chapter S corporations, allowing community banks the same favorable tax treatment other small businesses have long held.
 
McKnight served on the Scott & White Health Care Board of Trustees from 2002-2013 when it was merged with Baylor Health Care. He served as Chairman of the Scott & White Investment Committee and Vice Chairman of the Scott & White Finance Committee. He served for ten years as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Scott & White Foundation. He was selected to serve on that combined organization’s (Baylor Scott & White Healthcare) Board of Trustees. He currently serves as Chairman-Elect of the Baylor Scott & White Health Care Holdings Board of Trustees. He is Chairman of the Financial Committee of Baylor Scott & White Health Care. He also serves as Chairman of its Investments Committee.
 
He serves as a director on the board of the New York Philharmonic as, and is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The McKnight Center for The Performing Arts at Oklahoma State University and on its Investment Committee.
 
Ross has been married for 43 years to the former Billie Gaskins of Davis, Oklahoma. He and Billie have two children: Trent, a 2003 graduate of OSU and a 2004 graduate of the London School of Economics; and Meggan, a 2005 graduate of OSU and a 2011 graduate of DePaul University.

Lee Cockerell
Retired, Executive VP of Operations for Walt Disney World Resort

Lee Cockerell retired as the Executive Vice President of Operations for the WALT DISNEY WORLD® Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, a position he held for ten years. His responsibilities encompassed a diverse mix of operations, which included 20 resort hotels with over 24,000 Guest rooms, 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 5 golf courses, a shopping village & nighttime entertainment complex, a sports & recreation complex, and the ancillary operations support functions.

Lee joined the Disney organization in July 1990 as Director of Food and Beverage and Quality Assurance for the Disneyland Paris hotels. Prior to joining the Walt Disney World Co., he spent seventeen years in various executive positions with the Marriott Corporation and eight years with Hilton Hotels.
 
Today Lee is the founder of his consulting, seminar and speaking business, Lee Cockerell, LLC specializing in leadership, management and customer service.
 
Lee has served on the Heart of Florida United Way Board for six years including being the Chairman of the Board and a member of the Executive Committee and as Campaign Chairman for Central Florida. Lee served as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY; a member of the Board of Directors of the Production and Operations Management Society (POMS) and in 2005 Governor Jeb Bush appointed him to the Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service where he served as the Chairman of the Board.
 
In 2008 Governor Brad Henry of Oklahoma named Lee as a Creative Ambassador to assist the state in leadership and business development.
 
Lee is the author of four books on Leadership, Management and Customer Service: Creating Magic …10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies a Life At Disney; The Customer Rules, The 39 Essential Rules to Deliver Sensational Service; Time Management Magic…How to Get More Done Every Day; Career Magic …How to Stay on Track to Achieve a Stellar Career. He hosts a weekly podcast and has an iPhone app.
 
Lee and his wife Priscilla reside in Orlando, Florida. Lee enjoys teaching leadership, management and service excellence seminars, traveling, dining out and most of all spending time with his three grandchildren, Jullian, Margot, and Tristan.

Cecil O’Brate
Businessman and Entrepreneur

OSU is honored to present an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to Cecil O’Brate in recognition of his successful professional career, his outstanding philanthropy and public service, as well as his service as an advocate for student success.

Cecil O’Brate was born in Enid, Oklahoma, in November of 1928. A child of the Depression, he had an internal, unwavering passion to change his fortune. A true entrepreneur from the start, he figured out
ways to earn additional money to help provide for his family. Starting at the age of 10 he worked several jobs, including newspaper delivery boy, grocery store stockman, butcher, bread slicer salesman, gas station attendant, used car salesman, glasses maker, and others.
 
Prior to his senior year in high school, Cecil moved with his grandparents to custom farm in Syracuse, Kansas. It was there that he discovered one of his greatest passions in life, farming, and met the love of his life, Frances Cole (They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on September 14, 2017). He spent the year farming in Hamilton County and traveling across the country with a custom cutting crew to save up money for college.
 
In the fall of 1946, Cecil headed to Stillwater to attend Oklahoma A&M College and study structural engineering. Once there, he studied and worked to pay his own way. In the fall of 1948, with thousands of men returning from the war and jobs scarce, Cecil received an offer he could not refuse. He was offered 3,000 acres of farm ground to rent and help his grandfather; he decided to put college aside after two years and move back to Kansas to farm with the family.
 
Since 1948 Cecil has been a farmer, rancher, banker, business manager, developer, oilman, and serial entrepreneur. He spent the early years back in Kansas farming and ranching. In 1965 he embarked on a new challenge and purchased Palmer Manufacturing and Tank Company. When he purchased the company, Palmer’s had two employees and manufactured tanks for the agriculture industry. When he sold the company in 2013 it had 215 employees and millions of dollars in annual sales. In 1984 he began investing in oil and gas ventures which evolved into American Warrior, Inc., currently one of the largest independent oil and gas producers in the state of Kansas.
 
Now 89 years old, Cecil does not let any grass grow under his feet. More recently he has focused on development in the community he has called home for the last 60-plus years, Garden City, Kansas. Since 2012 Cecil has invested in hotels, restaurants, housing, and attractions that have brought growth and vibrancy to the local community. By enacting his vision, others have also begun to invest similarly in Garden City and it is now the “city” between Wichita, Kansas, and Denver, Colorado.
 
Cecil has been able to use fruits of his business success to help others. Over the years, he has donated time and resources to numerous charities in the area to help those who are less fortunate, most often focusing on children. In the fall of 2013, Cecil and Frances established The O’Brate Foundation which provides college scholarships and life skills for students who are graduates of the foster care system or are below poverty level. Since 2013, approximately 400 students have been on scholarship and the Foundation has provided over $2.5 million in scholarships. For the spring of 2018, there are 164 students on scholarship. The O’Brate Foundation is making a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of young men and women and their families by providing a chance that otherwise might not be available.
 
Cecil and Frances reside in Garden City, Kansas, and are proud parents of four boys; Patrick, Michael, Steve, and Mark, eight grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

Patricia E. Walker
Chief Geoscientist, ExxonMobil Exploration Company

Patricia Walker is originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but has now lived in Houston, Texas, for the last 32 years. She says she is “still an Okie at heart.” She graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1984 with a BSc and in 1986 with an MSc degree in Geology from the Boone Pickens School of Geology in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Following graduation she began work for ExxonMobil Production in 1986 as a production geologist with responsibilities for field mapping, reservoir characterization, and infill drilling for several fields in the Texas Gulf Coast. In 1991 she moved into ExxonMobil Exploration with assignments in Alaska and South America working regional scale to prospect scale opportunity generation.

From 1997 to 2004, while balancing career and family, Patricia worked part-time as a geologic consultant focused on asset evaluations for independent oil companies and for ExxonMobil on regional projects in the Middle East, North Africa, Mexico, Russia and Australia. In 2004, she returned to ExxonMobil Exploration on a full-time basis and worked multiple assignments in a diversity of geologic settings in both a technical contributor role and a management role.
 
In 2013, Patricia was named to a Senior Technical Consultant role in the Exploration Company and in 2015 promoted to Chief Geoscientist.
 
Patricia Walker is married to another geoscientist at ExxonMobil and has two children – Amanda, 25, and Nathan, 22.
 
She continues to be an active member in the AAPG, and serves on the advisory board for the OSU Boone Pickens School of Geology.

Leona Mitchell
Soprano

OSU is honored to present an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts to Leona Mitchell in recognition of her successful professional career, her outstanding philanthropy and public service, as well as her service as an advocate for student success.

A Grammy Award-winning Soprano, Leona Mitchell has emerged as one of America’s most beloved and celebrated Sopranos. Leona spent 18 Seasons as a leading Spinto Soprano at the Metropolitan Opera in
New York where she essayed many dramatic and lyrical roles such as: Aida, both Verdi Leonora’s from La Forza Del Destino and Il Trovatore, Manon Lescaut, Boheme, The Masked Ball, Madame Butterfly, Liu in Turandot, Madame Lidoine as well as Mozart, and Handelian roles.
 
She has three DVD’S with The Three Tenors: “Ernani” with Luciano Pavarotti,“Turandot” with Placido Domingo and “Carmen” with Jose Carreras. Leona also made a film in Hollywood playing a Diva in the film, “Yes, Giorgio” starring Luciano Pavarotti. Leona has sung for four of our United States Presidents: Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. She also sang for George Bush Sr. when he was Vice President.
 
Leona has also sung at some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses: The Berlin, Rome, Barcelona, Spain, Caracalla, Vienna, Rio, Verona, Paris, Covet Garden, Frankfurt, Chili, Buenos Aires, Rio, Canadian, Mexican, Los Angeles, Toronto, San Francisco, Geneva, Chicago, Cologne, Sydney Australia, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, Edinburgh, Bordeaux, Marseille, Washington, Parma and Hamburg companies to name a few. Leona sang with most of the major symphonies of the world. Many of the World’s Greatest Conductors have worked with Miss Mitchell: Zubin Mehta and The New York Philharmonic, James Levine and The Chicago Symphony, Seji Ozawa and The Boston Philharmonic, James Conlin and The London Philharmonic, and Kurt Mazur with The Israeli Philharmonic. With these Orchestras she performed such works as: The Verdi Requiem, Mendelsohn’s Elijah and Brahms Requiem.
 
Leona is a highly regarded recitalist and has been presented in concert at New York’s Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, Paris, Geneva, Sydney, Hong Kong, Japan, Tokyo, Spain, Korea, The Los Angeles Music Center, Canada, Australia, The UCLA Concert Series, Ambassador Auditorium, and all across The United States.
 
No stranger to television, Leona has appeared on The Merv Griffin Show, Good Morning America, The CBS Morning Show, Dick Cavett Show, Jerry Lewis Telethon, The Kennedy Center Honors, The Metropolitan Opera Centennial Gala, The ABC coast-to-coast Gala Statue of Liberty Celebration, PBS Specials, along with many “Live from Lincoln Center” and” Met Series.”
 
Leona has been the recipient of many wonderful awards from her state. She belongs to The Oklahoma Hall of Fame, The Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, The Jazz Hall of Fame, The Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame and recently The African American Hall of Fame. The Honorable Governor of Oklahoma, Brad Henry made Leona, The State’s Cultural Ambassador in 2003.
 
Leona has a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree from OCU and Two Honorary Doctorates: one from OU and the other from OCU. She also attended The Master’s Program at The Julliard School of Music. There is a museum and two streets named in her honor in her hometown of Enid, Oklahoma: The Leona Mitchell Southern Heights and Heritage Museum, Leona Mitchell Place and Leona Mitchell Boulevard.

Jennifer Grigsby
Executive VP & CFO of Ascent Resources

Jennifer Grigsby is Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer of Ascent Resources, LLC, an independent natural gas and oil company focused in the Utica Shale in southern Ohio. Jennifer previously served as Chief Financial Officer of American Energy - Woodford, LLC, and Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer of American Energy - Minerals, LLC. Prior to her time with the American Energy companies, Jennifer spent almost 19 years with Chesapeake Energy Corporation and served in various executive roles including Senior Vice President, Corporate and Strategic Planning and Senior Vice President, Treasurer and Corporate Secretary. She is also a principal and co-founder of Amethyst Investments, LLC, a passive financial investment company in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Jennifer served as chair of the Board of Trustees of the Oklahoma State University Foundation from 2015 to 2017 and chair of the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma State University Alumni Association from 2013 to 2015. She also serves on the board of directors of the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, United Way of Central Oklahoma, Leadership Oklahoma City, The Petroleum Club of Oklahoma City and CrossFirst Holdings, a bank holding company headquartered in Leawood, Kansas. Jennifer received a BS degree in Accounting in 1991 from Oklahoma State University and her MBA from Oklahoma City University in 1999. She is a Certified Public Accountant and Chartered Global Management Accountant and is a member of the Oklahoma Society of Certified Public Accountants and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
 
Jennifer has been inducted into the Oklahoma State University Spears School of Business Hall of Fame and the Spears School of Business, School of Accounting Hall of Fame and in 2014 was named a “Spears School Tribute: 100 for 100” which recognized 100 graduates over the prior 100 years who exemplify the OSU and Spears School spirit. Also in 2014, Jennifer was recognized as the Distinguished Alumna for the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University and the Sustainer of the Year by the Junior League of Oklahoma City. In 2017 Oklahoma State University recognized Jennifer as a Distinguished Alumna.
 
Jennifer, her husband Steve and sons Reid, 17, and Jack, 14, are avid OSU and OKC Thunder fans.