ROCKLAND — There’s so much to the depth and character of Emily Miller, a recent graduate of Oceanside High School and Mid-coast School of Technology, that it’s hard to know where to start.
The 18-year-old was recently named MACTE Student of the Year and when we sat down to talk, it was clear she wasn’t used to the spotlight or the attention. While admittedly nervous, she wasn’t afraid to talk about the events that have shaped her life in the last two years.
Locals will remember Emily, who was seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver when she was 16 in 2019.
The last two years for her have been a monumental uphill climb in her recovery, both physically, and emotionally.
Emily woke up in the hospital to learn her pelvis had been split in half, her ankle had been fractured, and she sustained a hairline fracture in her wrist. She also had to get an ACL and meniscus reconstruction in her right knee, a surgery, which had to be redone after an infection. But, she never dropped out of school. With the support of her family and a few close friends, she kept getting stronger and had to spend a half year in a wheelchair.
“I think the most difficult part for me is that I’m not just a nerdy graphic designer; I was also an athlete,” she said. “I did competitive swimming all of my life. I did Sea Cadets and was hoping to be a rescue swimmer for the Coast Guard. But, now, because of the injuries and the metal [in my body] I can’t do some of the things I used to do. The Coast Guard won’t ever take me because of that.”
In the nearly 10 years I’ve been writing this Rad Kids series, I’ve never come across someone as extraordinary as Emily. Let’s peel off another layer to get the full picture.
Emily admitted she has never done well in school. Art was the only subject that came easily—the only subject that truly engaged her. It was only after touring MCST her freshman year, that the school’s Design/Technology program sparked her interest. Graphic design became her new goal.
“The first year I spent here [at MCST] I did not talk to anyone; I was so shy,” she said. “I wasn’t confident, whatsoever. But, over the year, I knew art was the only thing I was good at. At Oceanside, I couldn’t learn in a regular classroom setting. There was nothing you could get through to me. Growing up there were multiple times I considered dropping out and just getting my G.E.D. but then coming here, to MCST, there were so many opportunities. They don’t care where you’ve been [academically], as long as you try hard. If you put the effort in; MCST puts the effort into you.”
Students enrolled with MCST typically attend public high school for half of their educational credits and focus the other half on a special area of expertise at MCST every other day.
Winner of Alive Arrive Contest!
At the time of our interview, Emily didn’t know the status of her contest entry. See attached pdf of her winning graphic novel strip.
Her teacher, Brandon Soards said when first encountering her artwork: “She showed off illustrations that looked like that of high-end professional, almost to an extent that I didn’t believe.”
Using Adobe Illustrator as her primary tool, Emily has continued to build on her art skills with the tools of graphic design technology.
After receiving the Student of the Year, she said, “Part of me is shocked, but I’m allowing myself to feel proud of that. A lot of people say artists are talented, but you’re not born with it; you have to work really hard. You have to practice at it; you have to take art studies. If it’s really something that you want, you have to go for it.”
She entered two competitions this past spring. One was designing an original logo for the Maine State T-Shirt design for Skills.
She also created a very personal entry for the USA Arrive Alive Competition, a contest open to high school seniors by submitting a creative project of their choice that sends a message to their peers about the dangers of drinking and driving and/or distracted driving.
She created a graphic novel strip for the contest. “I was trying to do it from the perspective of not knowing I was hit until I was in the hospital,” she said. “Not so much the physical things; but what happens mentally in the aftermath.”
She has slowly gotten back into swimming, running, and weight training. In two years, she has looked inward on how to process the ordeal.
“You’ve got to let yourself cry,” she said. “Don’t try to hold it in or you’ll turn it to anger. And you’ve got to let the people who want to help you, help.”
As a graduate of MCST’s graphic design program these last three years, she intends to come back as a post-graduate student for one more year. It’s essentially a college-level class building on her foundation of skills. And after that, she wants to open her own freelance graphic design business.
Emily has had so many obstacles placed in front of her; so many choices taken away from her. And what is very clear while hearing her voice shake after recounting those difficult times is how she found her way through it. She’s not even an adult yet and the resilience she has displayed is jaw-dropping. If she can get through being left for dead on the side of the road, get through her high school years in a wheelchair when most of her peers were doing sports, going to dances, walking to class—if she can learn to walk again, swim again, pour her energy and talent into pursuing a dream, and still graduate on time as Student of The Year—
If she can get through all of that, she can get through anything.
Hail To The Rad Kids is an ongoing feature highlighting teens in the Midcoast with special talent.