Top graduate, single mother motivated by striving to be the best for her young son

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – When Dana Bonner received her degree at Tennessee State University’s Fall Commencement on Nov. 20, among those in the crowd cheering her on was her 3 1/2-year-old son, Aspen.

Graduating with a 4.0 GPA, Dana Bonner received her bachelor’s degree in psychology. (Submitted photo)

“It’s been a tough journey, caring for him while trying to keep a job, and balancing that with classwork,” said Bonner, an honor student who graduated with a 4.0 grade point average. “But as hard as it has been the goal has always been to do whatever it takes to complete my degree and try to secure a better future for us.” 

And Bonner is doing just that, building a future by trying to be at the top of her class. The Seattle native was among nearly 700 undergraduate and graduate students who received degrees at TSU’s graduation ceremony. Bonner got her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She plans to return to TSU to pursue her graduate degree. Her career goal is to become a sports psychologist. 

A transfer student, Bonner came to TSU in her sophomore year from Nashville State Community College, where she had majored in physical therapy. The demand of a physical therapy study was too overwhelming and prevented her from giving the necessary care and attention to Aspen whom she had had since her freshman year. Coming to TSU, she switched to psychology, and says that’s the best decision she made. 

“I started my college career with a young child, and I have been a single mother all the way,” she said. “So, I had to learn how to navigate between being a good student and being a mother to my child. Being a single mother is hard enough, and to put school on top of it, and then you throw in having to work is extremely tough.” 

While coping has been tough, Bonner said she is thankful for family support. Nine years ago, mom, dad and sisters moved to Nashville. That transition has helped with raising Aspen. 

“Thankfully, I did have their help, but a lot of time I felt like it was my responsibility to take care of my child. Although I had their help, I tried to take on as much as I could,” she said. 

This balancing act and remaining a top student have not gone unnoticed by Bonner’s professors, who see the young mother as an example of “sheer determination to succeed no matter the odds.” 

Dr. Keisa Kelly, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology, said Bonner’s determination is no surprise. 

“When Dana transferred to TSU, she immediately stood out to me as someone with a purpose,” said Kelly. “With the support of a loving family, Dana overcame difficult challenges as a young adult, and entered TSU with the determination to use her intellect, empathy, resilience, and psychology degree to help others. I am so thrilled to learn that Dana intends to stay with the TSU psychology department to earn her Master’s in Psychology, and it is my hope that she will also complete her doctorate in our APA-accredited Ph.D. program in counseling psychology.” 

Despite her mounting responsibilities, Bonner maintains a full college life, including extracurricular activities. This past year, she was selected for the Scholarly Trainees Acquiring Research Skills program at the University of Tennessee, serving as a research assistant in their psychology department and participating in professional develop opportunities. She is a member of Golden Key International Honor Society, and Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society. She coaches high school and club volleyball and is a youth leader in her church. 

“I want my son to know that everything that we have now, I worked so hard so we could have this life, so we could enjoy the things that I know we are going to have,” she said. “I want my child to know what it is like to work hard. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. There is a lot of humility in working hard.”

Department of Media Relations

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