Indiana State University Newsroom

Mother-daughter duo earn pair of Indiana State diplomas

May 8, 2017

When Lakisha Johnson and her daughter, Tyshaya, moved from New York to Indiana in 2005, they were ready for a change and to be closer to family. Little did they know one day they would both become Sycamore alumni on the same day.

“I always knew I wanted to finish my degree but at that point, things weren’t happening that I wanted to happen. Indiana State was five minutes from my house, and I wanted to find somewhere where I could go to school and still be a mom,” said Lakisha, who will receive her Master’s of Social Work during Indiana State University’s commencement on May 13. “I knew I wanted to get my master’s and was resilient during the process. I wanted to do what God designed me to do, and social work was that.”

The first day of classes in August 2013, Lakisha took her daughter to school and revealed she was going back to school, too. “I was happy she was going to continue her education,” said Tyshaya, who will receive her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice Saturday.

“I think she was excited she was going to get a ride to school every day,” Lakisha said, laughing. “I love my daughter. She is exactly who I would have been, had I had the same support that I provide for her. My mother did not graduate high school nor did my father. No one in my family has graduated from a four-year institution. The fact that we will graduate together and on the same day is monumental.”

Although Lakisha will receive her master’s on the same day as her daughter, she is making graduation day all about her daughter. “I am going to get her a banner with her name on it, we’re going to have a party and it is going to be one big celebration,” Lakisha said. 

“I am ready to graduate. I have been ready since last semester. It has been a long journey. I never thought college was in my future, because I never thought about it and I never thought I was going to be graduating with my mom. It is all an experience. It is basically my day, though,” Tyshaya said. 

It is a special mother-daughter relationship that Tyshaya describes as “a great relationship. She is like a friend. We finish each other sentences. I get her more than she gets me.”

“We have found ourselves talking every day from the time she was in elementary and that has not changed in college. She likes to come home and tell me about her day,” Lakisha said.

While in college, Lakisha has allowed her daughter to have the full college experience while living at home. In their home, her room is on the main floor, and she has her own space.

“She always tries to let me do my own thing. She is always supportive of me and my decisions. She has introduced me to people that I would have never known about,” Tyshaya said.

“I have been able to teach her to advocate for herself in class. It has been a good experience,” Lakisha added. “We’ve gone to events together, helped her navigate her mySAM, financial aid and answer any questions she has had about the college process.” 

One of Tyshaya’s favorite memories at school with her mom was when they took biology together. “I always had to keep her awake. She would help me, and I would help her. It was a lot of teamwork throughout the semester,” Tyshaya said.

Lakisha added, “She forgot to mention that it was an 8 a.m. class, I worked from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., so I could be available for my kids during the day and did not have to rely on a babysitter. That was my sacrifice. It was rough but thankfully she woke me up a lot and it was funny because we sat in the front of the class.”

The mother-daughter duo made sure they took advantage of all opportunities that Indiana State had to offer. “My time has been life-changing at Indiana State,” Lakisha said.

They are co-leaders of a Girl Scouts troop at Sarah Scott Middle School. Tyshaya is a member of a mentoring program for Sarah Scott students, and they joined FREEISU, a group to improve campus inclusiveness.

“FREEISU was probably one of the greatest things I have ever done. It is about opening pathways so that everyone is on the same page and everyone is receiving the same opportunities,” Lakisha said.

“My mom has showed me how to be a leader and take action. One way has been through FREEISU. It was one of my favorite moments at Indiana State with her. She showed me her strength of being a mother of three while going to school,” Tyshaya said.

Tyshaya gained friendships that she never imagined, found a mentor through the Mentoring Assistance for Productive Scholars program and had the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa.

“That was my first time ever out of the country. I learned a lot from watching the other students, as I was the only undergraduate student. I didn’t want to leave, but I have to thank my mentor Dr. Mary Howard-Hamilton for the experience,” Tyshaya said. 

Lakisha’s involvement helped pave the way to her success as a graduate student. She was a supplemental instructor for social work classes, a student worker in her program, a teaching assistant on a study abroad trip to Vietnam, mentor of a first-generation student, sat in on committees and worked with Indiana State President Dan Bradley and Dean Linda Maule on various issues relating to campus climate, equity and inclusiveness in all areas of Indiana State.

One relationship that Lakisha greatly appreciated during her time at State was with Brad Byers, an educational support coordinator for the Center for Student Success.

“He is the best and I mean the best, the best supervisor anyone can have,” she said. “Many others at Indiana State have profoundly impacted my life. They are known as #LakishasVillage and I love them dearly.”

Because of her dedication to students and efforts as a supplemental instructor, Lakisha was awarded the Blue Leaf Award.

“My mom’s achievements have been great. I have been there for every one, and it is shows me that I can do as much as she can,” Tyshaya said.

Lakisha was also awarded the National Association of Social Workers Indiana Chapter Outstanding Master’s of Social Work Student of the Year Award.

“I was not surprised she got it. I think she has really put a lot of time, energy and commitment into this profession, even as a student. Since she has entered the program, she has really identified with this profession,” said Jennifer Todd, instructor and project director for the Screening, Brief Intervention Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) grant for the department of social work.

“Lakisha has more living experience under her belt than the average student. She is very much a critical thinker. She doesn’t take things at face value. You really have to support your ideas with her, even if you are a faculty member. The fun part of Lakisha is that we are able to have the conversations where she may not agree, but at the end, she is open to a different way of thinking,” Todd said.

Lakisha was a research assistant for the department of social work and consistently worked on the SBIRT grant. She presented research in the classroom setting, held the role of a data collector and was exposed to research-minded faculty. Through her internship, she saw the impact of substance abuse. 

Tyshaya, who wants to follows in her mom’s footsteps and receive her master’s in social work one day, will head to California after graduation to work as a youth program developer. Lakisha plans to take a three-week break before she begins work in the clinical practice. 


Photos: -- Lakisha Johnson and her daughter, Tyshaya, will both graduate from Indiana State University Saturday. -- Lakisha Johnson and her daughter, Tyshaya, will both graduate from Indiana State University Saturday.

Writer and media contact: Abby Niepagen, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, or 812-237-3773