Achieving the Unimaginable
Deona Miller was born in the Republic of Cape Verde, an island country off the coast of Western Africa. Tough economic times during the decades following its independence from Portugal led many of its residents to emigrate to Europe and the Americas. At age four, Deona was one of those immigrants.
Unfortunately, her parents did not find the dreams they were seeking in America. The years between Deona's childhood and her teens were fraught with emotional and physical turmoil: her father's imprisonment and death, her mother's drug addiction, and abuse in the home. Deona moved from place to place, living with friends or relatives, ultimately becoming a ward of the state. At 16, working and struggling to get through high school, she went before the court. "I told the judge I didn't have the money to become emancipated. So I said, if I bring you proof of income, if I bring you my report card, will you please let me be out on my own? And he allowed it," she says with amazement.
But her struggles didn't end once she graduated from high school and went to work. Says Deona, "[College] wasn't part of the working world, and I never thought I would actually be able to go. But when I noticed that a lot of my peers were in school, I had a desire for more."
While working as a 911 dispatcher, Deona met a retired air traffic controller who told her she worked so well under pressure that she should consider it as a career. Says Deona, "I didn't even know what an air traffic controller was! So I looked into it and saw that I could get a four-year degree and have a career afterwards. There are only about 20 schools in the country that offer the program [in aeronautics], and Kent State is one of the top three."
The financial aid Deona received has made a tremendous difference in her life at Kent State. "My first year, I didn't really know about the resources available to me. I went to my advisor asking about books, because they were so expensive. I just didn't have the money," she says. "So he called me into his office one day and said he had some good news. He told me that I'd received an endowment [the Lillian Keller Endowment] to cover my books. I was just floored. I didn't apply for anything, I didn't ask. I'm so thankful. It helps so much."
Deona understands very well how important it is to give back. She says, "I want to be here, so to have the opportunity is awesome. I want to be able to give students who don't necessarily have the means a chance. I know how it is to want to do something but you can't because you have limitations. But giving back relieves some of those limitations. You never know how far a person can go. A lot of the time I just can't believe that I've made it this far, but I know that I wouldn't have been able to do it without help."