Facebook pixel For STLCC Grad, 13-Year Odyssey of Persistence and Overcoming Obstacles Pays Off

For STLCC Grad, 13-Year Odyssey of Persistence and Overcoming Obstacles Pays Off

St. Louis Community College will celebrate commencement Sunday, May 21, at Chaifetz Arena on the campus of Saint Louis University, marking both small and monumental accomplishments for graduating students. There are as many stories as there are graduates, and with this special series, we celebrate all of our 2023 graduates with stories about six students who demonstrate in their own way what it takes to earn a degree. A new story will publish each day the week of May 15-19, leading up to STLCC's commencement ceremony. This is the first story in the series. This story, which features STLCC's 2023 student commencement speaker, is the final story in the series.

Ruqayyah Cherie Bailey’s St. Louis Community College experience was one that was filled with stops and starts. She faced obstacles and issues all along the way, but Bailey persisted and pushed on. Her STLCC journey, which started all the way back in 2010, ends Sunday during commencement at Saint Louis University’s Chaifetz Arena.

Bailey is the student speaker for the College’s class of 2023 and will share her experience during commencement ceremonies.

Bailey was diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum at the age of three. Despite being told that she was intellectually disabled and dyslexic, she persevered and graduated from high school in 2008, earning two scholarships from the St. Louis Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. However, Bailey’s high school experience presented challenges. She says she faced discrimination throughout her four years there.

“At St. Louis Community College, I found that I could be myself. Doors were always open to me here,” said Bailey, speaking of her decision to attend STLCC. “It was an amazing feeling, liberating. Every time that I had to suspend my education and come back, I was welcomed back by great teachers.”

A series of illnesses and medical events—including gall bladder surgery—caused her to delay the start of her STLCC education and withdraw from classes several times. But she took on the challenges because, she says, she felt like the College is where she needed to be.

“I had so much help,” Bailey said. “From TRIO Support Services, the Access Office, tutoring, career development. They were really there for me.”

Bailey’s ability to use the available resources to keep on track despite withdrawing and returning impressed the faculty and staff that she came in contact with.

“Ruqayyah is a very strong self-advocate, using all of the academic support available to her on the Forest Park campus, including tutoring and TRIO,” said Renee Dingman, a specialist in the Access Office Disability Support Services. “She’s never been afraid to ask for help and has a wonderful stick-with-it attitude.”

Ruqayyah advocacy work

Bailey not only utilized the services of TRIO, but contributed as well, serving as a peer leader, giving advice to incoming students.

She has also taken her interest in disability advocacy outside of the confines of STLCC. She has served on the Easterseals Midwest Board of Directors and is currently a member of the board at Paraquad, the St. Louis organization that provides resources and support to those with disabilities. She also worked at Paraquad’s restaurant, Bloom Café, which closed in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“Ruqayyah is an amazing individual,” said Gary Forde, associate professor of psychology at the Forest Park campus. “Her drive and determination to overcome whatever obstacles are presented to her are incredible.”

Bailey’s message to other graduates and current STLCC students is one of will power and persistence.

“Always believe in yourself. Push yourself. That’s what St. Louis Community College does, it helps us believe and feel like, okay, we got this,” Bailey said. “When the going gets tough, you must keep going. Instill it in your brain, that quitting is not an option.” 

Ruqayyah and mom in caps and gowns

When she looks to the future, Bailey sees herself as a social worker, eventually starting her own organization to help adults with disabilities. But first she will attend Maryville University, with an emphasis on social work.

When she focuses her attention on the more immediate future, Bailey feels overjoyed. Not only will she receive her associate degree in general transfer studies, Sunday will be made even more special because her mother, Leonetta Russell-Lane, will also walk the stage at Chaifetz Arena to receive her diploma alongside her daughter.

“It’s so cool that we’re doing this together,” Bailey said. “My mom put her life on hold to help me become a productive member of society. I’m glad that I can walk across the stage the same day as her. It feels like we’re both going to be productive together.”


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