Ellyn Miller to speak at Shenandoah University commencement

By Ryan Cornell

Ellyn Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Smashing Walnuts Foundation, will speak at Shenandoah University’s 2014 commencement ceremony on Saturday.

The foundation, which is dedicated to finding a cure for childhood brain cancer, was founded by her daughter, Gabriella, who died from cancer last fall at age 10. Through the Make A Wish Foundation, Gabriella was able to graduate from Shenandoah University and receive her honorary bachelor’s degree two weeks before her death in October.

Gabriella also participated in university classes for the day and delivered a commencement address in which she urged students to never take education for granted.

Adrienne Bloss, vice president of academic affairs at Shenandoah University, described Miller as “an obvious choice” for commencement speaker.

“[Gabriella] made such an impression on everyone when she was here,” Bloss said. “It was just a profound impact on campus.

“[Students] had actually been asking about wearing yellow ribbons [at graduation] for awareness of childhood cancer and were asking about that at exactly the same time we were thinking about who would be a good choice, who has been an enormous inspiration this year, and of course, it was Gabriella and her family.”

She said the commencement address will educate and inspire — words central to the university’s mission statement — and teach people about the need for greater awareness and funding for childhood cancer research.

A regular advocate for cancer research funding, Miller successfully lobbied Congress to pass The Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act last month, which increases pediatric disease funding at the National Institutes of Health by $126 million.

The commencement ceremony is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. Saturday on the field behind the school’s Brandt Student Center.

“Everyone has said that it’s so Shenandoah for her to be the speaker, for her to be here,” Bloss said.

Last May’s commencement speaker was former New Hampshire Governor and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com