A ‘short, sweet ride’: Mother-daughter graduates share transformative journey in earning degrees

by | May 25, 2017

Donna and Ashlie Vickers have shared many things in life, but neither thought they would split a college commencement weekend.
Vickers, graduates

Ashlie (at left) and Donna Vickers, a mother-daughter duo, graduated from UMSL earlier this month. As lifelong learners, the Vickers will now approach their careers with renewed confidence. (Photo courtesy of Donna Vickers)

As a proud mother, Donna Vickers gladly stepped out of the spotlight during her own commencement weekend. Within 24 hours of each other, Donna and her daughter, Ashlie, reached the end of their undergraduate years at the University of Missouri–St. Louis surrounded by family.

“This is her time to shine,” Donna said. “I will take a back seat any day to have my daughter walk across that stage. I don’t mind the back seat at all.”

While Donna may have placed herself second during the celebration, her own accomplishments are noteworthy and were equally celebrated by her three daughters and husband of 31 years, O’Larry Vickers.

The 49-year-old has spent much of her life supporting others backed by the strength of her family. Whether serving as a registered nurse, ordained minister or founder of a nonprofit organization, Donna is passionate about “bringing sunshine to the dark areas of people’s lives.”

To further her humanitarian efforts, Donna enrolled at UMSL in 2014 in pursuit of a BA in sociology with a minor in nonprofit management.

Just a few weeks before applying, Donna visited a civil rights museum in Atlanta, which fueled her return to school. As she read one of the museum plaques dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., she learned her idol had a degree in sociology and immediately knew she needed to follow suit.

“My goal [when enrolling] was to better understand the community,” she said. “I looked at Dr. Martin Luther King as a humanitarian, and that is part of me. That’s what inspired me.”

At age 30, Ashlie admittedly took time to find her own career motivation. Since graduating from high school, she bounced between a few different colleges but never truly found her focus. Fortunately, she formed a career with great opportunities prior to earning her bachelor’s degree.

But after landing a job at PLZ Aeroscience, an aerosol manufacturer, Ashlie knew she needed to finish her undergraduate years to advance within the company. She enrolled in the College of Business Administration in the spring of 2014 and, for the first time in her higher-education career, found herself excited about what she would learn and felt committed to her original plan.

“I knew what I wanted this time,” Ashlie said. “It wasn’t like when I went to school 12 years ago, and you just go to school because that’s what you have to do. I had a mission, and I was already looking past my bachelor’s to a master’s. For me to come back at a time when I was set in my career, it was 10 times easier than 12 years ago.”

Although Ashlie wouldn’t recommend for others to delay their degree, she notes there are benefits.

“I wouldn’t tell somebody, ‘wait until you’re in your late 20s to go back to school,’” she said. “But there’s a plus, your focus and commitment is different in a way that only helps you. If you’re really lucky, like me, you can be there with your momma, which makes it better.”

When Ashlie began classes a few months after her mom, she didn’t think sharing the campus with Donna would have much of an impact. As the years passed, she not only learned about supply chain and analytics while serving as president of the UMSL Supply Chain Club, she also discovered untapped parts of her personality.

“Being in school together has made me more protective of my momma,” Ashlie said. “It was odd the first time I had that feeling. I wanted things to be good for her. I didn’t want her to have any issues. I felt this overwhelming desire to protect her.”

Donna has a theory about where Ashlie learned this instinct.

“When she talks about how she wants to protect me, I am of the belief that comes from me always trying to protect her,” Donna said. “She has inherited that trait of mine. To me, that says, ‘I love you.’ That’s what it meant when I did it, and that’s how I feel when [my daughters] do it back. I believe that they love me and want the best for me, just as I have always wanted for them.”

Through papers, exams and university events, the mother-daughter duo finished their educational journeys with love and laughter.

“It has been a blessing to share this time with her,” Donna said. “I hope she always remembers it. I know I will.”

So what’s ahead for the recent alumnae? First, they’ll spend a few weeks on a celebratory trip to Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. For the first time in several years, they won’t need a laptop or have to set aside time to study.

Upon their return, Ashlie will continue her role with PLZ Aeroscience with the goal of eventually landing a senior management position within a global company. Donna will remain as the executive director of Donna’s Restoration Diner and Community Outreach Center, but she will approach her responsibilities with renewed confidence.

“My degree will allow me to better serve the community,” Donna said. “That was the entire goal – to be a better humanitarian, to give more of myself. I’ve always been a giver. That’s who I’ve been since I was a little girl. It allows me to do it more effectively and efficiently.”

While they may no longer be students, Donna and Ashlie, alongside their family, will continue their pursuit of knowledge.

“I think lifelong learning is absolutely mandatory for growth,” Donna said. “Personal growth doesn’t stop at any age. It continues if you allow it to.”

The UMSL Experience

Sara Bell

Sara Bell

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Triton Leaders Allison Lendman, Ashley Schauwecker and Cole McWilliams take a seat in the newly wrapped, UMSL-branded red golf cart outside the Millennium Student Center.