Inspired by Family, Mom of Seven Graduates as Keiser University Valedictorian

As a mother of seven children, Ashley Payne is accustomed to being the center of attention. For that reason, the Keiser University valedictorian could not help but feel at home when she recently addressed her classmates at Keiser University’s Lakeland campus commencement ceremony.

With all eyes and ears inside the Youkey Theater focused on her, Payne shared how her path to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at Keiser University was filled with difficulties, including a medical scare, her mother’s death, and the birth of two of her children. That kind of perseverance also caught the attention of People Magazine, WTSP, Spectrum Bay News 9, WFLA News Channel 8, ABC Action News – WFTS – Tampa Bay, and others who featured her story.

Payne credits her success to the support and love of her children, her deceased mother JoJo, and her husband Joseph, whom she calls “her other half.” A note that Payne found stuck to a bathroom mirror from her oldest daughter, Lorelai, 9, on her first day of classes at Keiser in 2019 is emblematic of that encouragement.

“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,’ said the 35-year-old mother, who kept the note in a binder to soften the days when attending class full-time while caring for a family became a heavy load.

Reaching for Stars

Payne is no stranger to reaching for the stars her daughter referred to, as well as the bumps along the way that can foil success. After graduating from high school in 2006 as the valedictorian at Families of Faith Christian Academy, the Florida native’s college plans were delayed when doctors detected she had 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,” she said. “This rattled my plan significantly.”

Switching gears, Payne focused on her health and her growing family. She also joined her husband to manage their party rental business. While discovering a passion for midwifery, she decided to enroll in Keiser University’s nursing program.

Head of the Class

Keiser University Chancellor Arthur Keiser said the community was thrilled to celebrate Payne and her 4.0 grade-point average.

“We are extremely proud of Ashley,” he said. “Such determination is common among Keiser University graduates. We live to serve students like Ashley and the many other working parents who are determined to take their next steps toward professional growth. We wish Ashley all the best in the future and encourage her to reach for the stars.”

Payne is not done reaching. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in nurse-midwifery while remaining a source of inspiration to others.

“There is so much room for opportunity and growth,” she said. “If you put your mind to it, it does not matter what walls you perceive. You can knock them down.”

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.

Keiser University Lakeland Campus Valedictorian Ashley Payne with the Post-It Note of encouragement from her daughter Lorelai

Keiser University Lakeland Campus Valedictorian Ashley Payne shares her story with media members.

Keiser University Lakeland Campus Valedictorian Ashley Payne

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At Keiser University students always come first, our reputation was built in Florida. Keiser is a not-for-profit university with over 40 years of history, thousands of graduates on campus and online. Now, with a 100-acre residential campus, this can be your right fit. We are Keiser University!

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Keiser University is pleased to join forces with guest lecturer, and New York Times Bestselling author Don Yaeger, to offer The Greatness Leadership Initiative: Transforming the World in the Face of Change. This open, online course is available free of charge to all in the Keiser University community. Stay tuned for more information!

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