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Daughters Words of Encouragement Come to Life as Lakeland Mom Of Seven Is Honored As Valedictorian

Contributed Post By Suzi McCreery

Director of Public & Media Relations

Keiser University Flagship Campus

Lakeland, Florida – July 2023 Keiser University’s Lakeland Campus Commencement Ceremony will hold special meaning for star student Ashley (Hickam) Payne and her family. A mother of seven, Payne will be honored as valedictorian on Friday, July 7th at 6:00 PM at the Youkey Theater located at 701 W. Lime Street, Lakeland, FL. 33815.

When asked what she’d recommend to those striving to reach their goals Payne shared an auspicious message of encouragement she’d received back on her first day of class in 2019. “When I started this program, my oldest daughter Lorelai was nine years old. She sent me to school with a Post-It note in her tiny handwriting that had this phrase ‘Aim for the moon, if you miss, you may hit a star.’ If she can realize the vast opportunities this world has to offer, so can you,” said Payne, who still cherishes the words of encouragement.

A Lakeland, Florida native, and first-generation college graduate who earned a perfect 4.0-grade point average while pursuing her Keiser University Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, Payne was also recognized as valedictorian at her Families of Faith Christian Academy High School graduation ceremony back in 2006. That same year while beginning her freshman year of college, she began to reevaluate her educational and career path after becoming afflicted with a pulmonary embolism. “I was only eighteen years old, and had zero cause for blood clots, so they kept me in the intensive care unit for two weeks. This rattled my plan significantly,” said Payne who switched gears to focus on her growing family while also joining her husband to manage their party rental business, and serving women through pregnancy, birth, and beyond. “My array of birth experiences, after having seven babies, has put me in a unique position to be able to empathize with most women and has cultivated a passion for birth work as deep-rooted as the oldest Shepherd’s tree,” smiled Payne who was a doula and birth assistant before returning to college to pursue her Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) degree in Midwifery.

Encouraged by friends to learn more about Keiser, Payne began classes at the university’s Lakeland campus in 2019 with support from family members including her mom. “She was my biggest advocate and would tell complete strangers about my accomplishments and goals,” Payne said of JoJo Ziegele-Hickam who passed away during her freshman year in the program. “My mom was my cheerleader when I gave birth at home and will continue to be my cheerleader as I continue into the world of midwifery. Unfortunately, she suffered tremendously in the end, and it was my turn to be her biggest advocate,” reflected Payne who shared that helping to manage her mother’s medical care required that she research and absorb information quickly to confirm the best steps with her physicians – lessons that further prepared her to work in a local hospital’s Emergency Department and as part of the local birth community.

Now looking forward to dedicating her academic honor to the memory of her mother, Payne credits her faith and family. 

“God has brought the most incredible motivators into my life. My husband Joseph has always prioritized my personal growth and truly emboldened me along the way, and our seven children have been the first to praise me – even at points where I felt pure exhaustion. My support system has been fundamental in the process of this goal, and I look forward to the fruits of our labor as God’s plan unfolds,” said Payne. “Above all else, I want to acknowledge the blessings of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and the continual work he is doing in my life.”

Following graduation, Payne looks forward to earning her Master of Science degree in Nurse-Midwifery at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Keiser University’s College of Nursing provides a number of pathways and degree levels for students who want to prepare to become successful in the field. Among them, its Bachelor of Science in Nursing program enables students to provide evidence-based collaborative care to diverse patient populations in varied settings. 

Keiser University is a private, independent, non-profit university serving nearly 20,000 students at 21 Florida campuses, online, and two international sites. Co-founded in 1977 by Chancellor Arthur Keiser, Ph.D., and Evelyn Keiser, Keiser University currently offers more than 100 degrees from associate to the doctoral level. Keiser University is a designated Hispanic-Serving Institution, a member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in providing Social Mobility by U.S. News and World Report in 2023. 

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Carl Fish

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