He will soon travel to a very different Washington to go back to school, this time to teach—as a very different person from the young man 25 years ago who didn’t even feel worthy to be taught at Penn.

When Miller was a high school student in Long Island, most of his friends planned to go to SUNY. He visited the Penn campus only after his best friend (who wanted to attend Wharton and become a millionaire businessman) urged him to join him in Philadelphia. The friend didn’t get in—but he still became a millionaire businessman. Miller did get into his school of choice, and he got exactly what he wanted, too. He just didn’t know it at the start.

“I was originally very intimidated by Penn and by the students there,” Miller says. “I felt like I’d never been in an environment where a lot of my classmates had gone to fancy schools and had a rigorous high-school education and I felt that everyone else was more qualified and prepared for Penn than I was.”

During his freshman year, he lived in Hill House, where he got to know some faculty members. He also took a freshman seminar with Dr. Vartan Gregorian Hon’88, the former Penn provost and dean, which introduced him to the intellectual challenges Penn provided and gave him confidence he could handle them. The University prepared him for the rigors to come, in law school and in his professional career, he says. “I think Penn gave me the confidence in myself,” he says. “I felt very lucky to go to Penn and very privileged to have a fancy, elite education. I felt a responsibility to do something with that tremendous experience.”

 

These days, Miller’s bow ties are chosen by his four-year-old daughter, Naomi. She usually picks the ones emblazoned with mermaids or bunny rabbits, not the kind usually seen at a U.S. attorney’s office or Harvard Law School.

Naomi does not have dwarfism. Neither does Miller’s wife, Jenni Mechem. She is hearing-impaired, he notes, so they share an understanding of living with a disability, albeit different kinds. If their child had been born with dwarfism, her parents wouldn’t have cared, he says. After all, he is a little person, and his wife married one.

Dwarfism is not just a disability based on size, though it certainly presents practical issues of navigating a world made for people at least a foot taller. Many people with dwarfism have respiratory or orthopedic problems and live with frequent pain, Miller included, though he doesn’t complain about it or even bring it up. Nor does he seem fazed by his recent, successful, bout with cancer, a disease that two years ago killed his younger brother Danny C’85 G’85. In fact, he sounds like a movie tough guy to anyone who is surprised about what he has overcome. “My physical problems are such that if I’m not dying, it’s fine,” he says.

If he could snap his fingers and make his dwarfism disappear, he would not do so, he says. A genetic mutation created his achondroplasia, but he does not think that gene is bad or something that needs to be cured. And most people with non-life-threatening disabilities would agree, he believes.

“People generally like who they are, and that it is a part of their identity,” says Miller. “And just because it is harder to be different doesn’t mean that you want to erase that difference or that identity. Just because it is harder to grow up and live in America being a person of color, doesn’t mean that all people of color walk around wishing they were white.

“I don’t wander around from the morning [when] I wake up to the time I go to sleep saying, ‘Oh, goddamn it, I’m so little, and this sucks.’ I just am who I am. Sometimes I have good days, sometimes I have bad days, and there are times in my life where I’ve embraced who I am, and times in my life when I haven’t embraced who I am, and that’s okay. But I don’t think that people should view folks with disabilities, whether you use a wheelchair, or you’re a dwarf, or you’re blind, or what have you, and say, ‘Oh, I bet you sit around hoping that you could get out of your wheelchair and walk again,’ because I don’t think that people with disabilities think that way.”

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2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 08/27/04

FEATURE: Signature Style
By Lewis I. Rice
Photography by Jim Graham

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