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Student Commencement Speaker Reflects on the Power of Community

Headshot of Talya

Community. Supportive. Inclusive.

Those are the words Talya Ozbelli uses to describe her experience at NC State. They are also at the heart of the message the communication major will give in her speech at the university’s Spring 2021 commencement at Carter-Finley Stadium.

The message could not be more fitting. Graduates will celebrate this milestone occasion at two in-person ceremonies on May 14-15. Dressed in caps and gowns, and following all current health and safety guidelines, they will gather outdoors with loved ones, turn their tassels, and start the next chapter in their lives. College and department-level ceremonies will be held virtually.

After much time apart, the in-person events bring back at least some of the tradition lost last year due to COVID-19 and signal another small step toward normalcy. They also provide the opportunity to honor 2021 graduates safely and highlight their incredible achievements. Ozbelli, the May 15 student commencement speaker, agrees.

She knows all too well the strain of separation. The North Carolina native has deep ties to Turkey. It is where her parents grew up, where she lived for a few years before moving back to the U.S., and where most of her relatives still reside.

“Anyone who lives far from their family can tell you it’s hard,” she explains. “But I have grown to appreciate the importance of my ethnicity, which has helped me embrace and value other cultures, especially on campus.”

From the start, Ozbelli knew she fit at NC State. “It is a place that cherishes community,” she says. “Everyone is very encouraging and uplifting.”

That sense of community has helped Ozbelli and her classmates face the challenges associated this past year with the pandemic. “I am a better friend, student and person because of the way the NC State community showed up for me,” she adds.

The self-proclaimed storyteller uses her experience to pay it forward. In telling other people’s stories — primarily through videography and photography — Ozbelli strives to support and embrace them.

“It’s easy for people to feel intimidated or nervous if they have something unique about their life and story that isn’t common within the society they live in,” Ozbelli says. “That feeling is what sparked my desire to help others feel included and celebrated. We all deserve to feel accepted for who we are.”

Ozbelli’s interest in storytelling started at a young age and grew into a passion at State. “My professors, classmates and friends encouraged me to keep going because they saw potential in what I could do,” she notes.

In turn, she secured several internships, including one as a video intern at a nonprofit summer camp. She also worked at her parents’ yarn company, promoting their brand through various media outlets.

“That experience,” she says, “made me appreciate all of the hard work my parents put into their company and how you can achieve your goals and desires.”

Ozbelli hopes her speech will encourage her fellow graduates to do just that. “The possibilities are endless, and you, class of 2021, have the potential to make an impact,” she says. “Get involved in your community, and don’t be scared to ask for help. We are all trying to figure out and navigate our lives.”

What’s next for Ozbelli? “My dream is to work within the media and entertainment industry, highlighting stories from different people around the world and showing them how powerful their stories can be and how we can cherish their experiences.”

Members of the class of 2021, to be sure, share a powerful story. It is one of resilience, perseverance and pride in what they accomplished in a most difficult COVID-19 year. It is one they will carry with them for a lifetime.

In his virtual commencement address, Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Jeff Braden challenges our graduates to set out from NC State with a new sense of responsibility and obligation. “Use the knowledge you acquired to improve your own life and the lives of those around you,” Braden says. “Pay it forward and make it possible for the next generation of NC State graduates to learn, to grow, and to lead.”

Braden also tells the 2021 graduates that they are like no others in history. “We wish you all good things,” he adds. “And we can’t wait to see you leave your stamp on the world.”

By the Numbers

Communication

  • 176 undergraduate degrees
  • 9 graduate degrees

English

  • 55 undergraduate degrees
  • 43 graduate degrees

Foreign Languages and Literatures

  • 48 undergraduate degrees
  • 15 graduate degrees

History

  • 43 undergraduate degrees
  • 14 graduate degrees

Interdisciplinary Studies

  • 90 undergraduate degrees
  • 3 MALS degrees

Philosophy and Religious Studies

  • 20 undergraduate degrees

Psychology

  • 192 undergraduate degrees
  • 13 graduate degrees

Public and International Affairs

  • 134 undergraduate degrees
  • 37 graduate

Social Work

  • 41 undergraduate degrees
  • 113 MSW degrees

Sociology and Anthropology

  • 97 undergraduate degrees
  • 15 graduate degrees

This post was originally published in College of Humanities and Social Sciences.