Not many people can say all their dreams have come true. But in less than one year, Shenandoah University’s youngest alumna, Gabriella Miller ‘13, was granted her wishes, lived out her dreams and accomplished so many goals. This incredible 10-year-old had a much-too-short life, as she passed away peacefully at her home late Saturday evening, Oct. 26.
“Gabriella Miller is a shining example of the difference one person can make in the lives of others,” said President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D. “Since her diagnosis, she has fought hard for herself and for other young children who have been affected by cancer. We as a university community are saddened by the loss of such a unique, talented and dedicated young girl, but we are inspired by the wonderful things she accomplished in such a short time. We are proud that forever after, she will be counted among our Shenandoah alumni.”
Two weeks ago, the vivacious and outgoing young girl spent a day on Shenandoah’s campus, attending classes and receiving an honorary Bachelor of Arts degree, thus fulfilling her third and final wish: to graduate from college. Gabriella, who had an inoperable brain tumor, was also awarded the President’s Medal for Outstanding Service in Cancer Awareness. Her previous two wishes were to visit Paris and become a published author.
When Gabriella was diagnosed with a walnut-sized brain tumor in November 2012, she and her family began smashing walnuts – literally – as a symbolic gesture to support her battle against her illness.
Gabriella became a national childhood cancer advocate through public speaking engagements and fundraising efforts. Most notably, she helped raise $275,000 for the Make-A-Wish foundation last year. Gabriella’s energy and passion to help others motivated her to launch the Smashing Walnuts Foundation, dedicated to finding a cure for childhood brain cancer.
A public memorial service for Gabriella Miller begins at 6:30 p.m. at Heritage High School in Leesburg, Va., on Wednesday, Oct. 30. Dr. Fitzsimmons will speak at the service. The family is requesting that donations be made for cancer research and awareness to www.smashingwalnuts.org.
To honor Gabriella, people everywhere are making paper flowers for her memorial service – because paper never dies. After the service, the flowers will go to the families of children with cancer and the oncology nurses and doctors who care for children fighting cancer. Bunches of Gabriella’s blooms will be delivered to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) teams, members of Congress and whoever else can influence awareness, research, funding and finding a cure for cancer. These flowers represent love, beauty, community, life and hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Flowers may be dropped off or mailed to 20899 McIntosh Place, Leesburg, VA, 20175.