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Alum Sonny Miller: Building on a Strong Foundation

May 25, 2010

When Sonny Miller graduated at the top if his class at the University of Iowa College of Law, he credited OBU with laying a foundation that propelled him ahead of students from "big name" schools such as Harvard, Yale and Brown.

Miller's success has continued beyond his success at the top 25 law school. Nominated for several years as a rising star in the Minnesota legal community, he obtained partnership in a top 100 law firm in 2007. He is a partner in the Tax, Trusts and Estates Group at Dorsey and Whitney LLP in Minneapolis, Minn., and vice president and trust officer of Dorsey and Whitney Trust Company. His work entails helping high net-worth individuals plan their estates to pass their wealth or family-controlled businesses to the next generation.

"I have the great joy of going to work every day to a job and career that I absolutely love," Miller said. "I have had the pleasure of working with some of the wealthiest families and largest companies in our country. Many of my clients are very charitably inclined, and it has been a privilege to assist with the transition of significant amounts of wealth to help fund their charitable goals and objectives.

"The problem with success is that it often results in more business. While I thoroughly enjoy my career, I do sometimes secretly wish that I could work a little less."

Though OBU laid a good foundation for Miller's success, in retrospect he said OBU initially was not his first choice for college. He had another private school out of state in mind. He said he felt nervous about staying in Oklahoma and whether a Baptist school would be the right fit for him. Despite his hesitation, he visited campus during a preview day at the recommendation of the pastor and youth minister of his home church.

"It didn't take long after visiting OBU to decide that I would not only get a good education, but I would also get that education from a strong moral perspective, distinctively Baptist, and unapologetically Christian," Miller said. "I was sold, and also a little sorry that I had wasted so much time looking at other options."

Miller earned a bachelor's degree in management and banking/finance in 1994. He said three professors specifically made an impact on his life during his time on Bison Hill: Dr. Dan Reeder, professor of business; Dr. Glenn Sanders, professor of history; and Dr. Jim Vernon, associate professor of music and former director of the legendary Bison Glee Club.

Reeder, currently interim dean of OBU's Paul Dickinson School of Business, served as Miller's primary business professor and was instrumental in helping him secure a job at a local trust company during college. The job led to an interest in estate planning and ultimately a career in that field. Reeder also offered Miller perspective, such as the time he gave his student a score of 90 on an essay test.

"I approached Dr. Reeder and asked him why I had not received a perfect score as I did not see any marks on the essays I had written for the test," Miller said. "He assured me that I had received the top score on the test, but reminded me that no essay is perfect - a humbling and appropriate lesson to learn before heading out into the working world."

Miller said Sanders found several students who seemed to have a strong interest in history and world events and started an after-hours discussion group that met one night a week to talk about the impact of history on current events. As a freshman, Miller was invited to join the group. He also participated in the Model Arab League, which he said Sanders facilitated on a level clearly ahead of his peers.

"He was not paid for this extra effort, and those discussion sessions had a profound impact on my ability to understand the greater world around me," Miller said.

Miller said he is forever indebted to Vernon, who took an interest in his personal well-being, acting as a counselor and guide outside of the classroom to the entire Bison Glee Club. Miller credits Vernon with making college a lot of fun, from Bison Glee Club Spectacular to cross-country tours to destinations such as the Grand Canyon, San Francisco, San Antonio, Washington D.C., and even Las Vegas.

Miller said his memories of OBU are not complete without a reference to many Campus Activities Board productions: singing in Freshman Follies, lamenting the death of small puppies during Biggie, and, in his senior year, directing "Once Upon a Spring Affair" with Pamela (Stone) West.

"It was a hilarious and musical tribute to our favorite fairy tales and a fitting end to the magical time in my life that was OBU," he said.

Upon arriving at law school, he soon discovered the liberal arts education he received at OBU was not only Christian, but also very good. He believes he was as prepared - or arguably better - than many of his classmates who had graduated from larger schools.

"The worldview presented at law school was very different from OBU, and presented its own challenges," he said. "I was thankful for the strong Christian worldview that I had been exposed to at OBU. I ultimately graduated as the top student in my class ... and landed a job at a top 100 law firm as well. For these achievements, I give credit to God and his merciful grace, as well as the excellent education I received at OBU."

Miller and his wife, Amy, balance his busy work schedule with time for their two sons, Parker, age 8, and Soren, age 5. He volunteers as an attorney at the Children's Law Center of Minnesota and serves as the third-grade Sunday School teacher at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He also serves as a Cub Scout camp coordinator. Additionally, he seeks to pass along lessons he has learned to attorneys aspiring for success.

"The education I received at OBU helped me learn to think critically about the world and challenges around me," Miller said. "This ability to think critically is the cornerstone of my legal practice. I have always advised younger attorneys that the best path to success is a sharp mind and hard work. You earn respect - and, accordingly, business success - by being the best in the room. I also strongly believe that we can have more of an impact in the world with our faith if non-Christians can look at our work ethic and competence and respect us for those qualities as well."

In Miller's opinion, the foundations laid on Bison Hill are very firm indeed.

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.