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Living His Dream of Service

Monday, July 12, 2010

A couple of years ago, it was merely a pipe dream for Matt Miller to become what he'd wanted to be all his life: A police officer. But with help from Sheriff Grady Judd of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Polk State College Foundation, along with hard work and determination, Matt's vision is now a reality.

Matt Miller

Like so many young boys, seven-year-old Matt Miller imagined himself as a police officer, arresting bad guys and engaging in brave acts of heroism. By the time he celebrated his twenty-first birthday, his childhood fantasy had matured into his life’s calling.

“I’ve always been interested in the public service aspect of things. Since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to be a law enforcement officer, but my parents weren’t so sure. Oh yes, they are proud of me, they just didn’t want their boy to get hurt,” he said.

Matt had his eye on Polk State College’s Kenneth C. Thompson Institute of Public Safety, but the roadblocks to achieving his goal were twofold:  He wasn’t sure if he could afford the education he needed, and in today’s economic climate, he wasn’t sure if he could get his dream job after graduation.  Little did he know one man would be there to help him surmount not one, but both of these hurdles: Sheriff Grady Judd of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.  Through the help of Sheriff Judd and the Polk State College Foundation, Matt received the Sheriff Grady Judd Scholarship in 2009, and today, at 22, Sheriff Matt Miller proudly wears that shiny badge.

 Matt began his journey at Polk State College with the First Responder course, then continued on with the Emergency Medical Technology, A.T.D. (Applied Technology Diploma) program. When he received his EMT license in 2007, his life was suddenly at a crossroads: His parents decided to move to Kentucky, and Matt realized it was time to strike out on his own. It became clear that his education could be derailed, at least temporarily, by the demands of day-to-day existence.

For two years, Matt worked as a server at the Outback Steakhouse in Winter Haven. In 2009, he felt he was established enough on his own to get back on track at Polk State College, and launched his studies in Criminal Justice. Bracing himself for a tight financial squeeze, Matt was filled with relief and gratitude when he received the Sheriff Grady Judd Scholarship on August 27, 2009.

For six months, Matt’s schedule was beyond tight as he attended school full time, 8-5 Monday through Friday, then worked at Outback from approximately 5:15 to 11 at night. Finally, on February 18, 2010, he graduated from the Institute of Public Safety with his vocational certificate in Curriculum Management System (CMS) – Law Enforcement. He was elated when he was offered the position of Deputy Sheriff.

“I had applied in January 2010 and got the process started while I was still in the Police academy. When I was in the office of Chief W.J. Martin of Law Enforcement, and he said they were going to hire me, my stomach was in knots from excitement. I had to restrain myself from losing my composure right there. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone that I knew,” said Matt.

The thrill of that moment hasn’t waned.

“The investigation aspect of the job, putting together the pieces of the puzzle then catching the criminal, is enjoyable for me. It feels good to put away people who don’t deserve to be on the streets,” Matt said.

“I love assisting people who really need help, such as with a domestic dispute.  I find that people just want to be heard. They want to tell their side of the story, have someone feel their pain,” he said.

Sheriff Grady Judd, who was honored as Polk State College’s Distinguished Alumni in May 2003, established the scholarship in 2004 to benefit students in Law Enforcement. Matt remains eternally grateful to the man who helped him achieve his dreams, who he looks up to and admires.

“He’s such a down-to-earth person. He comes in and visits us, he stays active, he doesn’t sit in his office all day. On orientation day he came in personally and told us about his background, gave us an overview of the agency and emphasized the customer service aspect of the job. He doesn’t let being the Sheriff go to his head,” said Matt.

In his application essay for the scholarship, Matt wrote about the importance of a good education and continuing to learn. He intends to further his expertise by earning a bachelor’s degree at Polk State College in Supervision and Management– Public Safety Management. And he will do it once again with the assistance of Sheriff Judd. After a one-year probationary period, Matt will qualify for tuition reimbursement. The Sheriff’s office will pay for any schooling in his future, even up to a PhD.  Matt hopes to eventually attain a career in federal law enforcement. “That’s my long-term goal, working for the FBI or something of that nature.”

“It’s great to continue the tradition of genuine leaders, picking up their legacy, becoming a part of the community and making a difference in people’s lives,” Matt said with pride.