Four years of college can be stressful enough, but for one American International College graduate, it was a piece of cake compared to what she had to overcome in her personal life.

25 year-old Ashley Mayo of Hartford received her bachelor's degree in sociology Sunday, May 22 at the MassMutual Center. But for awhile it looked like Mayo wasn't going to reach the finish line. Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis, she took a year off for her two hip replacement surgeries and had to learn how to walk again.

"The whole ordeal, while physically excruciating was also very painful emotionally," Mayo said. "As a young woman, a lot goes through your mind when faced with such a drastic surgery."

But Mayo didn't let it stop her from earning her degree. "Once I got the go ahead to resume normal activities, I approached everything,including college, with a vengeance. I was determined to prove that this setback wasn't going to hold me back. I could do it," she said.

Returning to AIC last year, Mayo last semester excelled in the classroom earning a 3.87 grade point average and was the recipient of the recipient of the Fanny Kamberg Award 2011 at the annual Academic Awards and Class night.

She also excelled in her internship placement at The Wingate of East Longmeadow, where she practiced direct social work (with her own caseload) under the supervision of Gabrielle Thomes, Director of Social Work. And she did it all while working full time at a woman's substance abuse clinic in Hartford.