A lifelong dream has been made a reality for a Holocaust survivor who, after nearly 30 years educating others, can finally say he’s received his high school diploma.
East Northport resident Mordechai Miller was given an honorary degree at the 103rd commencement of Smithtown High School West June 21, becoming a member of the graduating Class of 2018. The 87-year-old donned a blue cap and gown, sitting with his fellow graduates on the field to wait to hear his name called by Principal John Coady.
“It’s very exciting,” Miller said upon hearing he was being granted a diploma.
The moment was decades in the making for Miller.
“Everything he’s wanted in life he’s been able to achieve, except for this.”
– Leah Miller
“Everything he’s wanted in life he’s been able to achieve, except for this,” said his daughter, Leah. “He’s really wanted this for a long time, but it’s not something you can ask for.”
Miller was born in the village of Jablonna, Poland, in 1931. Due to the outbreak of World War II, he was only able to complete first grade before he and his family were forced to live in a Jewish ghetto before eventually going into hiding. They were liberated from the war front town, where they had taken up work as Polish refugees, by the Soviet army in January 1945.
Miller moved to the United States in 1956 where he settled in Brooklyn. A self-motivated man, he started his own business selling used truck parts and eventually opened his own junkyard in Bay Shore after moving to East Northport in 1984.
Since the 1990s, Miller has shared his life story as a public motivational speaker at hundreds of events, according to his daughter. For the past 10 years, he has regularly been a guest speaker in Christina Cone’s Holocaust and Genocide class at Smithtown High School West.
“We thank you for all your work with our students, sharing your experiences and congratulate you on receiving your diploma.”
– John Coady
“He will always start out by saying that he loves to come to school because he didn’t get a chance at an education,” his daughter said.
The Holocaust survivor’s goal in sharing his life and experiences with students each year is to increase tolerance in the world. To honor Miller’s message of doing right by others, Smithtown’s staff decided to confer upon him an honorary degree.
“As he was deprived of a formal education and was never awarded a high school diploma, it is our privilege to bestow upon him this long-awaited document,” the principal said. “We thank you for all your work with our students, sharing your experiences and congratulate you on receiving your diploma.”
Miller was given a standing ovation by the students, parents and Smithtown faculty at the June 21 ceremony as he walked across the stage and accepted his degree.
“He has always wanted this opportunity, and tonight they have made his dream come true,” his daughter said.
While the school district has given out honorary diplomas before, Miller was the first be allowed to walk in the ceremony.