While her classmates tossed their caps in the air, Caren Miller rested in the intensive-care unit at Carson-Tahoe Hospital.
Miller, 26, was supposed to attend Tuesday night's Western Nevada Community College graduation, but was too weak to leave the hospital. She has neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors and is more commonly known as the "Elephant Man disease."
Miller was one of 390 students between Carson City and Fallon to graduate with an associate degree or certificate of achievement Tuesday. They composed the largest class in the college's 32 years.
Miller has been in intensive care for more than a month. The tumors that grow gradually in her ears and spinal chord have made her deaf and impaired most of her motor ability. She cannot eat and is too weak to swallow. Fluid has gone to her lungs and created pneumonia. She is blind in one eye and too weak to stand.
Susan Hannah, the college's disability coordinator, visited Miller Tuesday morning and discovered the student would be too weak to attend the procession.
So, on a day's notice, the college brought the ceremony to her.
College President Carol Lucey, regent Howard Rosenberg and many of the college's administrators presented her with a certificate of achievement in the subject of business in the hospital waiting room.
"I'm very honored that you all came," Miller said in sign language with the help of her interpreter. "I cannot put into words how I feel."
Nurses and professors cried as Vice President of Academics Connie Capurro handed her the degree. The crowd held their arms high in the air and gave Miller the "silent wave," a sign an interpreter had taught them seconds before.
Miller has been working on her degree for eight years. She was at the college for 3 1/2 years and had taken classes earlier at the National Technology Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, N.Y.
"Pah," Miller said through an interpreter. "It's a deaf-culture word that means 'success.' I'm excited to have fulfilled a dream. I always wanted to graduate from college."
Miller had help from three certified interpreters and additional note takers. She is a good student and only had two classes to complete this semester in order to graduate, Hannah said.
"A student like Caren never gives up. She is a courageous young woman. I wouldn't be surprised if she went on to get her bachelor's."
Miller has affected the lives of all those around her, one of her interpreters, Kelley DeRiemer, said.
"She has a humor and spirit and a fight," DeRiemer said. "People are really inspired by her. She is a neat person inflicted by a horrible disease, but she never gets down and never gets depressed. You look at your own life and tell yourself to shut up. She is so positive, it is overwhelming."
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At the college graduation Tuesday night in the Carson City Community Center, Reno Mayor Robert Cashell was the keynote speaker.
"The skills you have learned here will serve you in life," Cashell said to the graduates and crowd that overflowed into another room. "But you have to be committed and passionate about your work because you will only get out of it what you put into it."
President Lucey awarded honorary degrees to Max Hershenow and Roger Sedway. Hershenow is a local architect who drew the plans for the college's new $1.3 million observatory, free of charge.
"He is a caring and compassionate individual," Lucey said. "WNCC is grateful to have him as a friend and ally."