It may have been just another rainy day for most, but today the sun was shining in Gabriella Miller’s world. Today is the day she graduated from Shenandoah University. Though diminutive in stature, this 10-year-old Leesburg, Va., resident fills the room with her bubbly personality and genuine excitement for the task at hand.
“I want to cut something in half, as long as it’s already dead,” she said as she began the late morning task of dissecting a frog in her second class of the day, zoology. Gabriella donned her lab coat, glasses and a pair of gloves.
“Ewww, that’s a big frog!” she exclaimed. It took a few minutes, but she decided the appropriate name for her specimen was “Bob.” “Me and my pet frog, Bob, were playing a game called ‘dissect,’ and I clearly won. Bob won’t be asking for a rematch.”
It was last November when Gabriella was diagnosed with a walnut-sized inoperable brain tumor. She and her family began smashing walnuts – literally – as a symbolic gesture to support her battle against her illness.
“The one thing that we have always said to her is that cancer doesn’t make you different, and she’s absolutely embraced that,” said Ellyn Miller, Gabriella’s mother. “So I think she has challenges just like any other 10-year-old kid, and then throw into it going to the hospital for clinic.”
Since her diagnosis, Gabriella has become a national childhood cancer advocate through public speaking engagements and fundraising efforts. Most notably, Gabriella 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.
Gabriella has a simple determination to live life to the fullest. Two of her wishes were checked off the list before she set foot on Shenandoah’s campus today — visit Paris and become a published author. The third wish? Graduate from college.
When Shenandoah’s senior administration learned that Gabriella had authored a special writing in a children’s book about cancer, “Beamer Learns About Cancer” by Cindy Chambers, they decided Gabriella would be a perfect fit at Shenandoah.
“At an institution where we say our mission is to educate and inspire, you certainly embody that,” said President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D., speaking about Gabriella in her address during the special commencement ceremony.
“Today, Gabriella did 15 credit hours, crammed into one day,” said Dr. Fitzsimmons. “Does this sound familiar? She went to a concert last night. So, she had to do the homework rather late. I said, ‘You’ll fit right at home with all of our students.'”
After attending classes all day, complete with homework assignments and quizzes, Gabriella was conferred with an honorary Bachelor of Arts degree and presented with the President’s Medal for Outstanding Service in Cancer Awareness.
The pomp and circumstance of the special commencement ceremony this afternoon signaled that her third wish had come true. Now, Gabriella can call herself a graduate of Shenandoah University.
“You all know that I have cancer and I’m going through some challenges. What gets me up every day, especially on the weekdays, because I’m not a morning person, is that I love to go to school and learn,” said Shenandoah’s newest alumna.
“Thank you for having me at Shenandoah. I’ve had a wonderful day, and I can’t wait to come back in eight years and learn more.”
Gabriella’s day in video
Gabriella’s day in media coverage
NBC4 Washington – Young Girl With Cancer Living Out Her Dreams
TV3 Winchester – Young Girl with Cancer Set to Earn Honorary Degree from SU
The Northern Virginia Daily – Child uses experience to educate others
Leesburg Today – Gabriella Miller Achieves Two Lifelong Dreams
Leesburg Patch – Leesburg’s Gabriella Miller, 10, Receives Her College Degree
Ashburn Patch – Leesburg’s Gabriella Miller, 10, Receives Her College Degree