Ashley Davenport-Shaker

Ashley Davenport-Shaker

2024 Communication Alumnae

On Saturday, May 11, whispering voices echoed inside the Hulman Center at Indiana State University. In rows of seats, hundreds of excited Sycamores waited in blue caps and gowns. This was the moment they had been waiting for – for a very, very long time. For students who graduated high school in 2020, during COVID-19, the 2024 commencement ceremony would be their first in-person graduation. After four years of hard work, their moment had arrived.

One by one, students walked across the stage, accepted their diploma, shook hands with University officials, and celebrated their achievement with fellow Sycamores who felt that same fulfilling sense of accomplishment. They were no longer undergraduate students. They were now college graduates.

One of those students was Ashley Davenport-Shaker, a 2024 Communication graduate from Chicago. This Sycamore followed a nontraditional path to her commencement ceremony. She had begun her college journey in 2016, but financial and mental health hardships put a pause on her time as a Sycamore. Back then, Davenport-Shaker thought this meant the end of her college education.

“I was missing my family back home and working at jobs while I was a college student. It was a lot of stress, and I didn’t know how to deal with the stress at the time. I thought a break would be best for my mental health,” she explains.

A Black female with black and red hair wears a white shimmering dress. She holds a Black infant wearing a blue dress and a blue graduation cap. The woman holds a blue diploma holder. A white wall is visible behind them.

For two years, she worked various jobs and attended counseling to work through her mental health challenges and other traumas. Finally, she met her husband, Spencer, and two years later, he suggested she should return to school. He knew she wanted to finish her college degree, she says.

“He constantly brought it up, but I thought I wasn’t ready. It wasn’t the time. He kept reminding me that I would be happier here at Indiana State. I only had two more years of my college studies. I could do it,” Davenport-Shaker says.

In 2022, she made the brave decision to return to school and complete her Communication degree, with an emphasis on public relations, advertising, and applied communication. She credits faculty in the Department of Communication for being instrumental in her success, she says.

“They knew I struggled with confidence and stress in the past. They motivated me to keep pushing through my studies. They provided a great learning environment where I could ask for help when I needed it. If I believed in myself, the sky was limitless,” says Davenport-Shaker, who earned a Promise Award within the Department of Communication for her dedication to her studies. She adds, “This was my second chance to earn my degree.”

In her major, she learned valuable communication skills and how to use public relations to promote businesses. Eventually, she hopes to pursue a career in mental health communications. Because of her past struggles with mental health, Davenport-Shaker is passionate about connecting mental health organizations with community partners.

Throughout her education, she has participated in numerous philanthropic activities, including working with the 12 Points Beautification Project with Professor Jennifer Mullen, and volunteering for March of Dimes and Prematurity Awareness Month. Davenport-Shaker also joined the Zeta Phi Beta Incorporated sorority and participated in other philanthropic events through that organization.

“I love to help people and I want others to have a caring heart for people in need. Through these opportunities, I have met great people who want to make a difference,” she says.

Last spring, as the Sycamore continued with her studies, Davenport-Shaker and her husband discovered an unexpected blessing: She was pregnant. Their daughter, Zamoura, was born in November, and Davenport-Shaker didn’t need to take a semester off.

A Black couple hold a Black infant in a blue dress. The male wears glasses and a white polo shirt. The female has black and red hair and wears white glasses, white hoop earrings, and a black T-shirt. Greenery is visible in the background.

“I learned how to pace myself and take breaks when I needed it. If you’re not in the right mental state, it’s okay to take mental breaks. It’s easy to experience anxiety, but I wasn’t alone. My professors supported me throughout my pregnancy and after I had our daughter,” she says.

As most mothers will understand, Davenport-Shaker’s schedule changed overnight. She coordinates with her husband’s work schedule so that one of them is present with their daughter at all times of the day. She wasn’t afraid to ask her professors for additional help. She also discovered a form of therapy in journaling, in which she reflects on her thoughts and feelings when she is stressed.

Finally, after years of hard work and dedication, on May 11, Davenport-Shaker received her diploma. She achieved her long-awaited goal and earned a bachelor’s degree.

“This was the first time I could say I’m really proud of myself. I came back to school. I kept going. I can’t help but be proud of what I accomplished,” she shares.

Now, the door is wide open for her future. She accomplished a major life goal, and now she is turning the page to begin working toward another. Along the way, Davenport-Shaker knows she will always have support – from her husband and family, from her professors and mentors, and from her Sycamore community. Because earning a college degree begins with BLUE!