When Micayla Davis walks across the stage at White Auditorium today to accept her degree from Emporia State University, it will be the culmination of nine years of perseverance and determination.
Davis graduated from Emporia High School in May 2013 and entered ESU as a freshman in the fall. She chose accounting as her major, inspired by her mother, Marla Craig.
“My mom always said I was going to be an accountant because I love numbers. So it just kind of stuck,” she said.
The transition to college life was somewhat rocky for Davis. A failed class took her below the minimum hours required to keep part of her financial aid, but she worked extra hours to cover difference herself and persevered. Then in the spring of 2017, her father died unexpectedly.
“Most of my professors were amazing about working with me and I finished that semester strong, but then came all the ‘firsts’,” Davis recalled. “The first birthday without him, the first Christmas... The grief hit and my willpower, my creativity — I just kind of plummeted.”
During the week before finals in the fall of 2017, one of Davis’s professors called her in to discuss her grade.
“I had been to all the classes and taken the tests, but I hadn’t turned in any assignments. So he goes, ‘How do you expect to pass my class when you haven’t turned in a single assignment?’” she said.
The professor, Dr. George Durler, retired in 2021, but Davis credits him with pulling her out of her grief and helping her focus on her goals.
“He woke me up,” she said. “I explained to him the situation, that my dad passed away the semester before. He made me a deal. Because I had showed up to class, because I had taken the tests, he would give me an incomplete instead of failing me. That would allow me to take classes the next semester. But I also had to finish the work for this class with the added stipulation that I sought counseling from the Student Wellness Center.”
Davis agreed to the deal. She completed her coursework and attended counseling sessions, which not only helped her process the grief but revealed another surprise.
“[Counseling] ended up being a blessing because I also found out that I have ADHD,” she said. “Five years into college, I find this out and I’m thinking, ‘Well, that explains a lot.’”
With that diagnosis, Davis was able to utilize ESU’s Student Success and Support Services and receive accommodations such as more time to take tests and permission to record lectures so she could go back and listen for anything she missed.
Following another difficult semester, Davis took some time off to consider whether to continue. Financial aid was no longer an option for her, so finishing her degree would require paying for everything herself.
“One of the reasons I chose ESU is because it’s inexpensive but still a good school,” she said. “I could live at home to save money, which was really the only financial contribution my family could make.”
Davis is the first person in her family to attend university, and the significance of that, coupled with her determination to finish what she started, ultimately made the decision for her. She set up a payment plan at ESU and enrolled in three or four credits per semester.
Davis’s mother said she was confident her daughter would figure out a way to finish her degree.
“I tell her often that no matter what, no one can call her a quitter,” Craig said. “She knew from the get-go that she was going to get her degree. Not doing it was simply not an option for her. I’m more proud than words can say.”
Gwen Larson, Director of Media Relations at ESU, is one of many faculty and staff at the university who helped Davis. She will be among those cheering when Davis receives her Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting.
“Micayla saw her goal — a college degree that would open doors in her chosen field — and she worked so very hard to make her dream a reality. I am just so proud of her and glad she discovered her inner strength to follow her path,” Larson said.
After graduation, Davis plans to work for a few months before possibly moving to pursue a career in business finance or tax accounting.
“I went through a lot of difficult times and it took longer than I ever expected, but it was worth it,” she said the day before taking her last final exam. “When I walk across that stage on Saturday, I’ll have proved that I’m strong, that I’m not a quitter.”