Mother of eight presses on toward degree
Editor’s note: This story is reprinted from the August 2019 issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version, click here.
By Mike Kilen
Melissa Davis often finds random notes that her eight children have written to her.
Mom, you are amazing.
You got this.
We’re behind you.
“Those notes,” Davis says, “keep me going.”
Davis, 39, said she overcame an abusive childhood and young adulthood marked by drug abuse and crime to become a scholar and a model for her children.
She works overnight jobs in Fresno, Calif., so that during the day she can home-school three children and study online for her master’s degree in English at Grand Canyon University.
That this mom of eight children ages 4 to 25 earned an undergraduate degree was no small upset.
“Years ago, when she was going through the drug struggle, I wondered how we were going to get out of this. I didn’t know if she would go to prison and I would raise the kids,” said Davis’ mother, Sue McDonald. “It’s incredible how it worked out.”
Davis said she finally subdued her substance-abuse problem with spiritual faith in 2010, and two years later at a rock concert of Christian performers she saw an advertisement for GCU on the big screen.
She subsequently read a GCU Magazine piece about a woman overcoming difficulties to graduate and was inspired.
“If she can do it,” she told her mom, “I can do it.”
It didn’t matter that Davis was pregnant with her eighth child at the time. She enrolled in 2014 – and studied in the maternity ward.
“At first, I had the attitude that these people are good Christians, and I’m a dirty Christian,” Davis said. “But I found out that was not true. We all have our issues.
“In my classes, I was engaging with people from all walks of life and all different histories, all of us striving toward the same thing. It’s such a wonderful sense of community. And I never even met these people in person.”
It didn’t matter that she contracted a severe infection in 2017 and was in critical condition; she studied in the hospital.
Davis did volunteer work, cared for her kids – including newborn Olivia, today age 4 – and kept hitting the books.
She marched toward an undergraduate degree in Christian Studies, graduating with a 4.0 grade-point average and winning the Ray-Maben Scholar award for academic achievement
“Her positive attitude is infectious. She is super strong in her faith, which she brought to the classroom in a gentle way without being too much,” said Jan Wakefield Darvas, one of her College of Humanities and Social Sciences instructors. “She’s an inspiration.”
Soon after, Davis said, she and her husband separated. She is raising seven of the eight children still at home mostly on her own, with an assist from her mother.
She also quickly decided to go for her master’s degree in English.
“I was a prime example of God’s restorative power,” Davis said. “I’ve come a long way. It would be crazy to give up now.”
That means her schedule is challenging, to say the least.
She works on her courses during the day and home-schools some of the children before going to bed early, so she can get up at 3 a.m. to teach English as a Second Language to students in China for three companies online.
Then she grabs an hour or so of sleep before she has to get the children going.
How does she get through it?
“Lots of prayer,” Davis said. “Every day I’m like, ‘God help me out of this mess, please.’”
When Wakefield-Darvas was talking to her on the phone one day, Davis was with her daughter shopping for a prom dress; when she was being interviewed for this story, he was on the way to the grocery store and then dropping off her daughter’s library book.
“I swear she must not sleep at all,” Wakefield-Darvas said.
Davis’ mother is astounded to see the transformation of her daughter, who used to think she wasn’t smart or disciplined enough to succeed.
“It has been a wonderful journey watching her grow as a mother, as a woman and as a Christian, seeing her grow mentally, physically and spiritually,” she said. “It changed he way she related to her kids. She’s like a different person.”
Davis’ son noticed.
“Both of our lives we have been depressed and living in low income houses and life was tough. Once I saw her go to school, I saw her go from depressed to someone who has hope,” said Zachary Walker, 21. “She started realizing what she was worth once she went to college.
She was surrounded by people telling her she can, not she can’t.”
She so inspired him that last spring Walker began taking classes at GCU.
It turns out, her children’s notes were right.
Mom IS amazing.
She does, indeed, have this.
“I’ve got to keep going,” Davis said. “I’ve got too many people watching me.”