Q & A: Shayla Simmons
Trail BlazerUniversity of West Florida Alumna Makes Campus History and Proves Age Doesn’t Matter
In 2004, Shayla Simmons was a 15-year-old student at Navarre High School when she “decided high school wasn’t for me.”
Already on the fast track to maturity, she wasn’t interested in the typical teenage party scene.
“I needed something a little more challenging,” Simmons says.
With characteristic determination, she successfully petitioned for a waiver to enroll in Fort Walton Beach High School in a different district so that she could attend Okaloosa Walton College (now Northwest Florida State College) a semester earlier than in Navarre.
Simmons also persuaded her high school guidance counselor to let her take a full load of classes her first year.
“I did great,” she recalls. “I got four As and a B.”
Simmons blazed on to graduate magna cum laude with an associate degree in business in December 2005, when she was just 17. Then, at the University of West Florida (UWF), she graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, majoring in professional accountancy. And at 19, Simmons earned a Master of Accountancy degree with a grade point average of 3.41. That makes her the youngest person to graduate with a master’s from UWF.
Now, at 21, Simmons has a promising career at the regional accounting firm Carr, Riggs & Ingram, where she is a tax accountant specializing in estate, gift and trust taxation and estate planning. She also has been married for three years to her high school sweetheart, Danny, and they’re expecting their first child in October.
Simmons recently sat down with Emerald Coast Magazine writer Lisa Monti to discuss her early success in education, the source of her ambition and her recent shift in priorities.
EC: Were you a whiz kid?
JA: Mom (Theresa Eddins) says that I taught myself to write my name by just seeing it written in other places, totally surprising her because no one had been working with me. I was blessed with wonderful teachers in the first and fourth grades, and they made a huge difference in my education. They talked about advancing me a grade, but Mom thought I was too young.
EC: So what is it about crunching numbers that intrigues you?
JA: I’m a very structured person. I like rules I can follow to know if I’m doing right or wrong.
EC: Have your priorities changed since you joined the working world?
JA: I used to think I had it figured out and was convinced I’d stay in public accounting and make partner as soon as possible. I still aspire to that, but I’m realizing that family is more important. I don’t want my children to miss out on time with me. That is a big revelation, and my family is proud of me for seeing it.
EC: Outside of the job, how do you enjoy spending your time?
JA: As much as I love reading, I don’t get to do that often. But spending time with my husband and family is something that I always make time for, no matter what.
EC: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
JA: I am a procrastinator. The majority of papers I wrote in college I wrote the night before. But I do work really well under pressure.
EC: Is your youth a factor in your job?
JA: I don’t think it’s the way I look, it’s the way I carry myself. I don’t intend to do it. I’m a very mature person. The partners sometimes tell clients about my age, but they don’t mind.
EC: What helped you become so successful?
JA: One of the biggest things that pushed me to go so far is that my mom made me believe I could do anything. Mom is a wonderful, smart lady. I had the drive, but I owe it all to her for instilling the importance of education in me.