Ashley Payne’s college graduation was unlike any other. While the occasion is momentous for anyone, it was made all the more special for Ashley as she balanced raising 7 children, and health complications, with her studies.

Not only did Ashley complete her undergraduate studies at the age of 35, but she did so as the valedictorian of her class!

How One Woman Was Inspired by Her Daughter’s Post-it Note

woman holding a post-it note with "you are beautiful" written on it
Photo by Lisa Fotios

Unfortunately, Ashley’s academic career was originally sidelined when she had a pulmonary embolism at only 18 years old — just after high school. A sudden blockage of the arteries, the condition is grave, and highly unlikely for such a young person.

“I was only 18 years old, and had zero cause for blood clots, so they kept me in the ICU for two weeks. This rattled my plan significantly,” Payne told a publication.

Payne was forced to focus on her health, as life continued around her. Thankfully, she recovered fully, and soon began having children. Motherhood quickly became a full time job, and further delayed her education. Payne and her husband, Joseph, focused on growing their party rental business, and on raising their children.

She even began working as a doula and a birth assistant before earning an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse degree in Midwifery.

However, in 2019, 10 years and 7 children later, she felt well enough to return to school, and enrolled at Keiser University. However, tragedy would strike again when she lost her mother.

She referred to her mother as her “greatest cheerleader,” and struggled to continue her studies through the grief. However, Payne told a local publication that words from her daughter written on a sticky note ultimately kept her going:

“Aim for the moon, and if you miss, you may hit a star.”

“She sent me to school with a Post-It note in her tiny handwriting,” Payne said via a press release from the university. “If she can realize the vast opportunities this world has to offer, so can you,” she told the audience at her commencement speech.

How Family Support Helped a Woman Graduate College

The support of her growing family carried her through difficult times and encouraged her to continue her studies, even as she became pregnant with two more children during the course of her education.

As she took the stage at her graduation from Keiser University, she did so as valedictorian, addressing the crowd with powerful words of encouragement. Not coincidentally, she was also the valedictorian of her high school class, over a decade prior!

In her university commencement speech, she referenced the note her daughter wrote, and how much the support of her family truly helped her. She graduated as a registered nurse with a Bachelor’s degree in Science and Nursing, and intends to continue her studies and obtain a Master of Science degree in Nurse-Midwifery at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Her story is inspirational in the truest sense of the word. Despite facing seemingly insurmountable hurdles, Payne persevered. Not only did she make it through her degree, but she did so at the top of her class.

Keiser University Chancellor Arthur Keiser, PhD, even beamed to a local publication: “We are incredibly proud of Ashley for being named valedictorian of her graduating class with a perfect 4.0 GPA.”

How One Woman Proved the Importance of Perseverance

Her story is ultimately one of support. Whether from family or friends, encouragement from others is invaluable. The belief of those close to us can inject us with a newfound drive, confidence, and enthusiasm. Though motherhood made Ashley’s studies all the more taxing, it is also what ultimately propelled her to keep going when it seemed too daunting.

Her daughter, Lorelai, had no idea how powerful that one note would become. She recalled, “I can’t believe the impact it has even now; I’m getting interviewed about this. I didn’t know that that’s what I’d be doing when I wrote this at 9 years old.”

We are all capable of encouraging those in our life in the way Lorelai did, and it is paramount that we do so when given the opportunity. Ashley’s story is one of determination, perseverance, and familial support.

As she continues on her journey towards obtaining her Master of Science degree, her story continues to inspire and motivate us all to pursue our goals relentlessly, and support those close to us doing the same.

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