A Liaison in Learning and Life
Many Valdosta High School (VHS) students would face an uncertain future were it not for John Miller, son of Oxford alumnus John M. Miller 47OX 49C.
A retired VHS math teacher and coach, Miller loves an underdog. “Since my earliest coaching days, I’ve enjoyed seeing people overcome the odds,” he said. Through his efforts and support from his cousins and Oxford alumni Willis (Wyn) Miller 67OX 69C 72L and Dutton Miller 71OX 73B, Miller helps promising students with “very difficult situations,” such as a disrupted home life or lack of school transportation, go to college.
Miller founded Student Mentoring In Life and Education (SMILE) at VHS in 2008. Through mentoring, the nonprofit program encourages high school students to grow academically, ethically, and socially, and continues to mentor them through college. In four years, it has transformed twenty-nine bright but disadvantaged kids into college students. Approximately fifty-nine more VHS students are currently enrolled in SMILE.
John Miller pushes students to improve SAT scores and toils with them on college and scholarship applications. He also, along with Wyn and Dutton Miller, who serve as SMILE Advisory Board members, promotes places like Oxford College. A program highlight is an annual tour of Georgia colleges and universities that includes a stop at Oxford.
Dutton recalled the transformation of Robin Walker 12OX 14C. “When I first met her, she was so shy, she hardly spoke. After her first year at Oxford, I thought, ‘Wow! This is a different student!’ ” Walker is one of four SMILE students to receive a Gates Millennium Scholarship.
One student at a time, SMILE changes the lives of young people.