Making it to graduation day was not an easy “walk in the park” for Cheqana Jervey.

In 2001, after graduating from Ensley High School, her journey with health struggles began when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer — only to find out later on that she also had brain cancer. CJ5One UAB student conquered her circumstances with dedication and grace in order to graduate in spring 2020.

Surviving 12 major surgeries, Jervey was still inspired to attend college.

In 2014, she began her collegiate career at Miles College but transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2015 to pursue a degree in child psychology.

She is the first generation of her family to finish high school and attend college.

The process

Jervey says transferring schools was hard because she was still trying to recover, relearning how to walk and talk normally again, while also taking care of her daughter as a single mom.

“I had a speech pathologist at the time and decided to sign up with UAB’s Disability Support Services to help assist with accommodations while here on campus,” Jervey said. “One of my college professors informed me about the organization because they had an open-door policy. I was a lot older than the other students, but I wanted to keep going. I had a sense of urgency.”

Jervey attended the majority of the DSS meetings, became a member of UAB’s Delta Alpha Pi Honor Society and was nominated to be the chair in 2017. 

Jervey says she wanted to make a difference in history by moving forward in her education and decided to change her major to history.

“A lot of people don’t know where they fit in,” Jervey said. “It’s important to know that you make a difference in history. It needs to be brought to many people in this world.”

“Cheqana was an amazing person to work with,” said Jonathan Wiesen, Ph.D., professor and chair of the UAB Department of History in the College of Arts and Sciences. “Her deep appreciation of history and her intellectual curiosity were palpable at every turn, whether in our classroom discussions or during chats in my office. Cheqana has had to overcome tremendous adversity, and her graduation is a powerful testament to her hard work and to her love of learning.”

“UAB has not only shown me to believe in myself, but there is opportunity for everyone, and it doesn’t matter if you have a disability,” Jervey said. “UAB is one of the best colleges that focuses on diversity.”

Moving forward

Jervey says her mission is to inspire others and her daughter, who is now 10 years old.  

“I’m not only doing this for myself, but for my daughter and others,” Jervey said. “My daughter has been to campus with me a few times, and I encourage her to one day attend UAB. She is very proud of her mom.”

Jervey says she did not let anything get in her way, and she is honored that UAB gave her a chance.

“UAB has the best instructors,” Jervey said. “They are willing to work with you and provide inclusive training and learning. I would not have made it without my professors, Drs. Jonathan Wiesen, Tondra Loder-Jackson, Jordan Bauer, Christopher Perry and many others, as well as my advisers.”

“One day, I will look back and say, ‘Go Blazers’ when I’m 80 years old,” Jervey said. “I am part of the Blazer family. UAB is my home. This is my school, and I’ll never forget it.”

“Cheqana is truly more than a conqueror!” said Tondra Loder-Jackson, Ph.D., professor in the School of Education’s Department of Human Studies and Educational Foundations Program. “I am inspired by her brightness, perseverance and resoluteness.”

Jordan Bauer, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor in the Department of History, says Jervey is among the hardest-working and most dedicated undergraduate students she has encountered in her 10 years of teaching at UAB.  

“She completed nearly every assignment ahead of the due date,” Bauer said. “Additionally, in my classes she has been an encourager of other students’ ideas and success. She also finds creative ways to connect topics learned in class to her commitment to the advocacy of children — very inspiring. I congratulate CJ on this important accomplishment.” 

Christopher Perry, UAB history instructor, says Jervey is an exceptional learner.

“In my history courses, I value engagement and critical thinking very highly,” Perry said. “I’ve found that, with the critical thinking aspect of history or learning in general, it is not organic. It doesn’t come naturally to many students. CJ is a delightful exception to this. She is naturally inquisitive and wants to know all the answers. Why? What’s the significance? How has this thinking evolved over time? CJ is not only an amazing student who wants to learn, but an outstanding person who helped others when it was needed. It has been my pleasure teaching CJ, and I am definitely better off because of it.”

Jervey will graduate Saturday, May 2, with a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in secondary education.

“One day, I will look back and say, ‘Go Blazers’ when I’m 80 years old,” Jervey said. “I am part of the Blazer family. UAB is my home. This is my school, and I’ll never forget it.”