An inspiring day

Academy Commencement
Gov. Nathan Deal and Charlie Miller


Commencement ceremony celebrates the human spirit

KENNESAW, Ga. (May 12, 2017) — It’s always an accomplishment when you get the governor to speak at your commencement ceremonies. But when you get the governor to give an address to 14 students – at the invitation of a student – you know they must be very special graduates.

The Academy for Inclusive Learning and Social Growth at Kennesaw State University held its Spring 2017 Commencement ceremony on May 11, in the Prillaman Hall Auditorium in front of a nearly packed house.

“I am glad to be here, and thank you, Charlie Miller for the invitation to be here,” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said. “Today is about the celebration of the triumph of the human spirit. More than at any other graduation I have spoken at, this graduation celebrates the triumph of the human spirit.”

The Academy, housed in the WellStar College of Health and Human Services, offers post-secondary educational opportunities for students with different intellectual or developmental abilities through two certificate programs: the Academic, Social and Career Engagement (ASCE) Program and the Advanced Leadership and Career Development (ALCD) Program. Academy students audit college-level courses, live on campus and have the opportunity to participate in a study-abroad program.

“I recently spoke at a graduation where there were 800 graduates,” Deal said. “You’re small in number, but you are impactful in what you’ve done.”

During his address, an emotional Deal fought back tears while praising the graduates for their achievements.

“You are their (other students) inspiration, and you’re my inspiration, too,” he said. “It takes courage to do what you’ve done.

“We’re all proud of you, and if we weren’t proud of you, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Miller, the Academy student who invited Deal to give the commencement address, was among the first graduates of the two-year ALCD program.

“What I hoped to get out of it when I first enrolled in the Academy was independence and being able to live without my parents there,” Miller said. “Charlie Miller today is a different person than he ever thought he could be.”

From living on campus to navigating the subway system in New York City to flying across the globe for a study-abroad experience in the United Arab Emirates, Miller said he never dreamed he would be moving to an apartment in Atlanta to start his new job as a disability advocate with the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency. His first day on the job is June 1.

“I’m excited to be able to pay bills; I’m excited to wake up at 7 a.m. and go to the Capitol and lobby for my independence and other people’s independence,” he said. “Before, I thought I’d be able to hold down a basic job, and I may be able to house sit for a couple of days while my parents were away, but I never dreamed I’d be living in the city on my own. I don’t think any of this would have been possible without the Academy.”

As to how he was able to snag the governor to give the commencement address, Miller, who previously served as an intern in the Governor’s Office, just asked.

“I rolled into the governor’s assistant’s office, and I said, ‘Ma’am, if it’s possible, I would like the governor to consider coming and speaking at my graduation,’” Miller said, “And, she said, ‘I’m not even going to look at his calendar. I’ll make sure he’s there.’”

Academy Commencement

Miller said he and his classmates were “beyond excited” when they received the official OK.

“When we were talking about who we would like to speak at commencement, I thought, ‘Well, I’m graduating, so I want the top dog there because I am proud of the Academy and what we’re doing and everyone should know about this,’” he said. “We were beyond excited when the governor accepted the invitation.”

– Jennifer Hafer

Photos by David Caselli


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit