by Jennifer Greene-Sullivan
Dr. Patricia Miller
Trying to find a picture of Pat online is like trying to find a needle inside the world’s largest haystack. However, I have located one. Throughout the years of my education, none has affected me more than this woman: the liege of journalism and of grammatical correctness. Dr. Pat Miller reaches deep into her editor’s vests and finds the ones who are overlooked and underappreciated; these people are the students that she mentors and pushes to know the truth about their talent.
I wrote her an email last week, and in all her glory, she responded to me. I find it difficult to express my thankfulness to a woman who finds little pomp and circumstance amongst a literary world of melodramatic writers and academic megalomaniacs , yet I tried my best:
I am blessed because you believed in me when I didn’t have the strength or wisdom to love myself. Your help with my thesis gave me the ability to feed myself and my children. I know that there were several of your colleagues who just saw a stupid girl with mental health problems and no talent in me, but you saw me from the first day we met. You believed in the part of me, that divine spark, that could overcome and prosper. I may never write another piece of academic writing, and God knows I earned the right to NEVER do that again. However, I feel the freedom of expression and creativity with each poem, children’s book, and novel chapter. All I have is a few journalism classes under my belt, two master’s theses, and a dissertation as experience, but I have the heart of a writer (a heart nourished by you). Thank you so much for being you and for teaching me.
Pat responded with her usual style of blunt candor:
What high praise. But, you know, my job is to create opportunity for students. It’s their job to do something wonderful with it. And that’s exactly what you have done. Your talent and effort drive your success.
She ended our electronic communication by celebrating me and inviting me to join the alum page. Of course, she would want to distract from personal accolades. Thankfully, she added an aside at the end of her email, and she summed up her own abilities with such marvelous wit:
And just as a weird aside: I seem to have three talents. (1) I can pretty accurately estimate the number of pieces of silverware I have to wash when I do the dishes (absolutely useless talent, but interesting); (2) I can pretty accurately estimate the amount of time most tasks will take (more useful); and (3) I can spot talent in students (most useful for the student, me and the society college prepares them for). Hope things continue to go well at your end of the universe. Later.
Pat plans to retire next year, and although I do know it is well deserved, I feel sad for all the future English majors at Valdosta State University who will not get to learn from her or get to know her. I have met several professors at VSU whom I have loved and appreciated greatly, but none has had the impact on my psyche and my career as she. Thank you, Dr. Miller, for your time and attention to me and to all the students you have taught and mentored.