When Ron Miller, 46, was diagnosed 14 years ago with advanced amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — finishing a college degree seemed out of the question.
But with the help of Excelsior College, Miller will graduate Friday with an associate degree in liberal arts.
“As Ron notes in his emails, ‘He may have ALS, but it does not have him,’ ” said Valerie DiCioccio, the college’s associate director of financial aid and a friend of Miller. “Ron doesn’t feel sorry for himself.”
Miller is a resident of Lake Taylor Transitional Care Hospital in Norfolk, Va., and is paralyzed from the nose down. He cannot travel to the Capital Region for his graduation, so instead, Excelsior College is traveling to him.
“Excelsior is going to Ron because he can’t come to us,” college President John Ebersole said. “His achievement is too exceptional not to recognize, and we want to help him draw attention to this terrible disease and the need for research to find a cure.”
Excelsior College was founded in 1971 by the state Board of Regents. The college provided a President’s Scholarship to cover the cost of tuition for Miller and operates on the mission that they meet students where they are, both academically and geographically.
Ebersole and members of the board of trustees will participate in a graduation ceremony in Virginia later this week. A “commencement address” will be delivered by U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va.
“I am most looking [forward] to meeting Ron and acknowledging his tremendous courage and motivation,” Ebersole said. “He is a role model to all those wanting to complete a degree and thinking that they can’t do it.”
Miller completed his degree by taking classes online using eye-gaze computer technology. According to an article about Miller on the Excelsior College website, the computer he uses tracks eye movements. An on-screen keyboard “clicks” based on the amount of time Miller spends looking at a key.
Although his body has slowed, his mind has not.
“He doesn’t ask for anything extra, other than time, when needed,” DiCioccio said. “He is an excellent student.”