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In emotional ceremony, UConn student with Spinal Muscular Atrophy awarded diploma

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STORRS--UConn handed out its latest diploma on Friday to a very deserving student.

Justin Miller is 27 years old and the true definition of a fighter.

Since the age of 1, Justin has had to fight the effects of Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a disease that impacts a person's motor skills, muscles and nervous system, including the spinal cord, and eventually the ability to eat, talk or breath. SMA research is funded by the Muscular Dystrophy Association, though they are separate diseases.

"As he gets older, he gets weaker," Justin's sister, Heather Miller, told FOX 61 earlier this week. "It affects the organs. It affects his lungs, his ability to swallow and speak."

Justin was able to attend classes at UConn as well as get promoted to be an "expert" at the Apple store in South Windsor over the last several years, and worked hard to do both despite his illness.

Now, Justin is fighting just the latest obstacle in his life: a large cyst on his throat. It was drained earlier this summer, but has returned. Due to its position, it can't be operated on, and now Justin has made a quality-of-life decision to end medical procedures and enjoy the time he has left.

But there were a few things Justin truly wanted to accomplish before he lost the chance. First, he really wanted to meet Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. That didn't exactly happen, but the star football player did record a personalized message for Justin, which was played at a party held in his honor last weekend (see his reaction here).

Now, he'd like to meet Snoop Dogg, though that hasn't happened yet.

But there was one more thing. After working for several years to graduate from UConn, Justin had taken the full number of credits needed to earn a degree. But with two incompletes left on his transcript, UConn initially surprised him with an honorary degree last weekend. That was what the party was for: to celebrate his accomplishment.

The reason he had two incompletes was because there were two semesters that Justin got especially sick, and though he had Bs in both classes he was only able to complete about 90 percent of the work. This week, UConn took another look at the work he had been able to complete in those classes, and along with the professors decided to recognize his good grades and award him full credit for the classes.

In an emotional ceremony in Storrs on Friday, several UConn executives came out to meet Justin's family and formally give him the diploma he had so earned.

"So congratulations, you earned it," said UConn Provost Mun Choi to raucous applause from those in attendance.

Due to how sick he is, Justin has had to go on medical leave from Apple, though he may not be able to return, and he may need to move in with his sister, Heather. The family could use some help, so here's a link to the GoFundMe if you'd like to learn more.

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