By Gillian Miller, with Natalie Romero
My oldest sister Meagan was the first trailblazer to leave our family home in Texas and venture out to California for college. My parents had become Seventh-day Adventists in the 1980s and since they did not get to experience an Adventist education themselves they very much instilled in us, their four daughters, the importance of surrounding ourselves with like-minded believers to challenge, grow, and strengthen our faith.
The three of us who were left in Texas were surprised that Meagan would go so far away for school. But it didn’t take long for Caitlin, Alaine, and me to be drawn to La Sierra University, too. It was easy to see that La Sierra was the best and most academically rigorous Adventist college to help each of us on our individual journeys into the world of healthcare.
My parents have never put a limit on what we could accomplish. But they made sure each of us understood that nothing worthwhile would result without hard work. My father is a math geek and my mom is very creative and musically inclined, so a lot of people ask me and my sisters how on earth we all decided to pursue careers in healthcare. But when we were young, my father told us, “I don’t care what you do…just shoot for the stars, and wherever you land is the place God intends for you.”
This mindset has led all three of my sisters to graduate from La Sierra University and Loma Linda University. My two oldest sisters are both Doctors of Dental Science and my third sister is a dental hygienist. My oldest sister has gotten the opportunity to attend LLUSM as a resident of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. I, however, plan to go to medical school and pursue my passion to become an emergency medicine physician as soon as I graduate from La Sierra at the end of fall quarter.
Meagan, the oldest, played volleyball at La Sierra, was a research intern, made pottery, designed costumes for fashion shows, and graduated with honors in 2011. From the stories she told us and the pictures she shared, I saw plainly that La Sierra wasn’t just a good place for school—it was a good place to get immersed in anything and everything someone found interesting, even if it had nothing to do with your major. “La Sierra gave me every opportunity to pursue my passions,” she says. “They’re interested in developing well-rounded individuals who are capable of real change. My ability to approach problems from a creative aspect makes me a valuable asset to my teams. And I know these skills were nurtured and encouraged on my college campus.”
Next in line, Caitlin came to California just two years after Meagan. As an honors student, Meagan had had the opportunity to go on a month-long global study tour in Turkey and Caitlin wanted the same opportunity to learn abroad—so she spent her junior year in Argentina through ACA. “I was very motivated to become fluent in Spanish during that year in Argentina. Learning Spanish has grown my dental practice and helps me connect with more people,” Caitlin told me. “Spending a year abroad reminds me of how my community and my actions affect the world’s ecosystem and how we are better when we think of others.” She graduated in 2013 with a degree in Spanish while playing volleyball and doing research, acting in plays, leading worship services, and directing media projects.
My third sister, Alaine, spent two years at La Sierra and then continued her Adventist education in dental hygiene at Loma Linda University. She also worked at the La Sierra University Library, helping students with media services. “Being from out of state, La Sierra always made me feel at home. The community was always there for me academically as well as spiritually,” Alaine remembers. “I was able to continue friendships I had made at La Sierra both in and out of the classroom.”
Even though all four of us majored in different fields, our goals are still the same. We all have a passion for the sciences and want to use our education to improve the lives of others every day. Personally, I love to be there for people on their worst day and try to ease their suffering as much as possible by what I have learned in the classroom at La Sierra.
Sometimes when people meet me on campus, they hear my last name—Miller—and immediately ask if I’m related to Meagan/Caitlin/Alaine. Being known as the youngest Miller definitely has its perks and challenges, but it has helped me seek individual and similar experiences and find ways to discover myself apart from the successful and inspiring legacies of my siblings. I believe I have my own special connection with La Sierra, considering I am the youngest of four sisters who also had their own distinct experiences here. Thanks to them, I was able to see into my college future before attending, and I know that uncommon foresight single-handedly helped me achieve my goals, while also surmounting the respected foundations that my family built for me on this campus.
Not to mention that I had a huge advantage a lot of students may not have: three siblings to show me around campus, to give me the inside scoop about the best student worker jobs, and to share pre-existing knowledge and insight about the classes I would take. They also unknowingly helped me make friends by giving me advice about the best and cheapest restaurants to go to, how to best use Degree Works to schedule classes, the best hideaway study nooks, and which social events to prioritize. So when I was the girl from out of state during those first few months of school, I had ways to make connections with other new students—so many of whom have become lasting friends.
All of us have always felt that our parents wanted us to achieve our full potential. I can remember my father saying to my sisters and me, “no one can ever knock you off the pedestal that you have built.” His ultimate goal was that we each use our talents to not only make a living, but to also serve others. The medical field was an area my parents had been interested in when they were younger, but both of them were unable to pursue it due to finances; so seeing the success of their daughters has fulfilled their dreams for their children.
I recently asked my father what he thought about his kids being so dedicated in their educational pursuits at La Sierra and beyond, and he told me about a conversation that Meagan had with a friend years ago. “They asked if she had a plan B if she didn’t get into dental school,” he said. “She was a bit taken back and answered that there was never a plan B…she knew she was going to somehow fulfill plan A.” He calls this “the Miller drive”—something deep in us that is rooted in confidence and positive thinking. “We saw how this drive was nourished at La Sierra,” he recalls. “You all grew into young women who are ready to overcome any obstacle.”
During my four years here, I have felt blessed to attend the same university as my sisters, and believe that I would not have received as distinguished an education elsewhere. The science classes were always interesting and challenging because every teacher was passionate about their calling, which was evident in the material we learned. This is helping to ease the transition from undergraduate to graduate school because I am well prepared for the next level of education. I know my sisters feel the same way about their own classes and instructors.
Something I really appreciate is that La Sierra taught each of us how to find a good balance of dividing our time between academics and extracurricular activities. It was just like Meagan told us all those years ago when she first left home—we were all able to be involved in team sports, honors, theater performances, clubs, charity events, and international mission trips. And they weren’t just random things to do for fun; every event, club, and subculture on campus connects to a greater vision of how to make the world a better place, no matter where God puts you. La Sierra has provided us all with an amazing worldview, and interpersonal skill-developing opportunities that will continue to help us relate to patients and thrive in complex situations in the healthcare field.
When my sisters and I talk about La Sierra, I can see the unique connection we have; it’s not just sisterhood, it’s a different type of bonding about our time at school. Like how the veggie pozole soup at the cafeteria after chapel just “hits different”, how the Honors Program trip uprooted our then-existing worldviews and humbled us, and how we all have a different, but equally special relationship with our favorite teacher, Dr. Dean, who taught microbiology to all of us.
Meagan, Caitlin, Alaine, and I had our own adventures and personal lives while we studied here, but the core of our La Sierra experience was the same for all of us—through the teachings of amazing professors, the guidance of spiritual leaders on campus and in the La Sierra church, and the faith-enriched friendships we made, all four of us became better people. La Sierra helped us get our footing on our chosen path of helping others and making a difference in our community. Our faith was strengthened, our minds enriched, our careers jumpstarted. And at the end of the day, I’m so glad our parents encouraged us to shoot for those far-off stars miles from home.