As Women’s History Month is celebrated, Keiser University Valedictorian Ashley Payne weighed in relating to the indelible impressions left by her mother and mother-in-law.

Payne garnered international attention when crediting her husband, seven children, and others for making it possible to achieve academic excellence as she pursued her nursing degree. While imparting that the loss of her ‘biggest advocate’ and mother JoJo Ziegele-Hickam has been one of life’s greatest challenges, she shared that embracing inspirational role models and mentors can be transforming.

“While the difficulties we face compared to that of our role model may not always appear similar, knowing the strength at which they faced their own obstacles head-on can inspire us to acknowledge our own potential and strive for personal growth,” said Payne who maintained a 4.0 grade point average. “She always had the brightest disposition and would have urged me to just keep on keepin’ on. So, that is what I did. I filled the gaping hole with bits of inspiration that she left me with, focused on being a momma myself, a wife, a student, and kept one foot in front of the other,” she said.

Payne also sends a special shout of gratitude to her mother-in-law Lydiann McClure. “I was incredibly fortunate to meet my husband when I was only 15 years old. I say this because the second mother that came out of meeting him has had nearly as much of an impact on my life as my own momma. She has faced so much and continues to stand tall with strength and grace. Seeing how she stood defiant against the turbulent seasons of life continues to motivate me to do the same. My momma recognized how much my mother-in-law had encouraged me as if I were her own daughter and made sure that I understood how much trust she held for her. One strong woman “passed the baton” on to the other and my mother-in-law has picked up where my momma left off seamlessly. I pray she knows how much her continued presence has helped me to keep pressing on. Witnessing such profound love fills me with hope that I can have the same lasting impact on my own children,” she said.

In addition to the family members who have profoundly impacted her, Payne shared that her faith in Jesus Christ continues to carry her through life’s challenges. “I will be honest, I thought He and I were on good terms until I finally realized what a true relationship with Him was really like. He knows the cries of my heart when my words cannot express them (Romans 8:26) and the relief that follows giving it all to Him allows each step I take to feel a bit more attainable,” she reflected.

When asked what she’d recommend to others who are striving to realize their dreams, Payne said, “Just breathe. The pages keep turning, the chapters fly by, and sometimes the storyline gets overwhelming. There will be hills and they will feel incredible and then there will be valleys that seem endless. Without the lows, you can never appreciate the highs. So, keep putting one foot in front of the other and remember that this life is so incredibly precious. Surround yourself with genuine people who have your best interest at heart, creating memories that spark random moments of laughter, and spreading love unapologetically are the true goals in life. Everything else is just the sprinkles on top,” said Payne who is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree in Nurse-Midwifery.

Keiser University’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program enables students to provide evidence-based collaborative care to diverse patient populations in varied settings. Graduates will be prepared to provide compassionate, patient-centered, culturally competent nursing care to individuals, families, groups, communities, and populations in a variety of settings, using evidence-based knowledge and skills related to wellness, health promotion, illness, disease management, and end-of-life care to improve healthcare outcomes. They will practice in partnership with patients as members and leaders of interprofessional healthcare teams, utilizing the most current healthcare technologies. Successful completion of this program qualifies graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN licensing exam.

Keiser University is a private, independent, non-profit university serving nearly 20,000 students at 21 Florida campuses, online, and two international sites. 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. 21 in the U.S. in Social Mobility by U.S. News and World Report in 2023-24.

Ashley Hickam Payne With Mother Jojo And Family When Honored As Hs Valedictorian In 2006 - Women’s History Month: Keiser University Valedictorian And Mom Of Seven Thanks Family Members For Unwavering Support - Graduate Spotlight

Ashley Hickam Payne with Mother JoJo and Family When Honored as HS Valedictorian in 2006

Keiser University Valedictorian Ashley Payne A Mother Of Seven Pays Tribute To Family Members - Women’s History Month: Keiser University Valedictorian And Mom Of Seven Thanks Family Members For Unwavering Support - Graduate Spotlight

Keiser University Valedictorian Ashley Payne, a mother of seven, pays tribute to family members.

Ashley Payne 039 S Mother In Law Lydiann Mcclure Holding Her Grandson Henley - Women’s History Month: Keiser University Valedictorian And Mom Of Seven Thanks Family Members For Unwavering Support - Graduate Spotlight

Ashley Payne’s Mother-in-Law Lydiann McClure holding her grandson Henley.

Ashley Payne A Keiser University Lakeland Campus Valedictorian And Mom Of Seven Shares Her Story With Media Members - Women’s History Month: Keiser University Valedictorian And Mom Of Seven Thanks Family Members For Unwavering Support - Graduate Spotlight

Ashley Payne, a Keiser University Lakeland Campus Valedictorian and mom of seven shares her story with media members.