Skip to main content

5 Questions With 3 Graduating Seniors

After the COVID-19 pandemic upended their high school graduations, members of NC State's class of 2024 are ready to celebrate commencement May 4.

A close-up of the while and gold tassel on a graduating woman's commencement mortarboard.

Commencement is a particularly big deal for the class of 2024. When many undergraduates were supposed to be turning their tassels with high school friends in spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced traditional graduations to become socially distanced, with near-empty auditoriums or drive-through ceremonies. On May 4, more than 6,600 undergraduate and graduate students will fill PNC Arena, sing the alma mater together and become NC State alumni. It’s a full-fledged celebration our undergraduates have been waiting for since the ninth grade.

We sat down with three graduating seniors to learn what Commencement Day means to them and what made their time at NC State extraordinary.

Ben Poovey

In 2020, Ben Poovey graduated from Green Hope High School in Cary, North Carolina. He had a drive-through commencement.

This semester’s student commencement speaker, Ben Poovey is earning his Bachelor of Science in business administration with a concentration in finance. In his speech, he’ll share his journey as an NC State transfer student.

What does this commencement mean to you?

I haven’t had a graduation in eight years, so it’s going to be essentially a new experience. It’s a celebration. It’s going to be like, “Take that, COVID.” It’s been eight years, but we’re still going to have a graduation now. We’re celebrating what we’ve done, how far we’ve come from eighth grade or from high school to now. Everyone has accomplished these goals that they had set out. That’s really cool.

What do you want people to take away from your commencement speech?

A big part of my speech is it doesn’t matter where you came from. It matters where you want to end up and where you do end up. I always wanted to go to NC State, but when I first applied and didn’t get in, it made me want to go there more. Freshman year, I worked as hard as I could because more than anything, I wanted to be an NC State student. It doesn’t matter where you begin or how humble or challenging your beginnings are. It matters where you end up and what you do to overcome those challenges.

Why did you choose to major in business administration?

In elementary school and middle school, I would walk down the street with a rake in my hand and knock on people’s doors and say, “Hey, I’m looking for work. I want to do anything I can to make some money.” That really continued all throughout high school and college. I took Information Systems Management and Introduction to Business Analytics in the Poole College of Management and really loved them, but I wanted to apply those skills more toward finance. So I joined the Business Analytics Honors Program and learned how to apply finance to data analytics.

What does the Wolfpack mean to you?

It means friends and people. You’re going through all this together. I mean, college is hard. I’m not going to know everything, no matter how diverse my classes are, but you can learn a lot from other people. Together at NC State, we probably know just about everything, right? When you take 45,000 people, there’s a lot to learn from everyone.

What’s next for you?

I’m pursuing a master’s degree in analytics at the Institute for Advanced Analytics through NC State. My first in-person internship was last summer with First Citizens Bank. I was a corporate finance intern, and it felt like 99% of what I used was from my data science classes. I want to nurture those skills to supplement what I want to do in finance. 

Jada Williams

As Jada Williams graduated from Raleigh’s Broughton High School in 2020, only a few people were allowed in the room.

Jada Williams is earning her Bachelor of Science in fashion textile management with a concentration in fashion development and product management. While studying in the Wilson College of Textiles, she’s found a passion for costume design. 

What does commencement mean to you?

It’s exciting. This is an actual, big graduation. High school was supposed to be that for us, so that makes it even more special. I feel like it means 10 times more now because of that gap during the pandemic.

What’s your favorite memory from your time at NC State?

This year’s NCAA basketball tournament, having both men’s and women’s teams make it to the Final Four — I really, truly feel like that was an experience that you can’t describe to someone. You don’t get how great it is until you’re there and you’re experiencing it. It felt like we were America’s team, and even my friends at other schools were rooting for us. Watching the teams play so hard and get that far was so inspiring, and I’m full of momentum now. I want to graduate and strive to do great things like that too. 

How did you decide to go into fashion and costume design?

I’ve always been drawn to fashion, but it wasn’t until junior year here that I figured out I wanted to take the specific route of costume design. In college in general, you’re at the age where you’re still finding yourself and figuring out who you are, and it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint what you want to do because you feel like you’re great at so many things and you want to branch out to do a lot of things. For me, that’s film and movies and producing and being a social media content creator here. I love being in front of the camera; I love being behind the camera. I thought, “What way will I be able to combine all of these into one so I can have a career that I love so much?” Costume design is perfect because it’s film, costumes, sewing, all wrapped into one. And with that job, as with any other job, I can branch out and try producing or directing. 

What advice do you have for incoming students? 

First, take your time. Don’t rush. College is such a wonderful experience that you want to make sure you absorb all of it because next thing you know you’re going to be graduating. Some things aren’t for everybody, and there are things you’re not going to want to do that others are doing, but I definitely feel like you should take advantage of your opportunities. Go rush the Belltower because you don’t know when you’re going to be able to do this again. Take advantage of those opportunities, not just for jobs or internships, but also for fun. Second, there’s no other you, there’s no one that can be you, and going into anything with that mindset will give you so much confidence. Going into college, you’re spending so much time trying to understand yourself and get to know who you are. It’s easy to compare yourself to other people. Keep in mind that there’s no other person like you, with the skills you possess. At the end of the day, you have your direct path to what you’re supposed to do, and nobody can stop that.

What’s next for you?

I feel good about costume design. I can graduate knowing that I had a great experience here at NC State. I feel like I’ve made the impact that I wanted to make and I feel good about it. You know, as you grow older, you want to constantly do bigger and better. With all that I’ve done here, I know when I get out into the world, it’s going to be even bigger.

Emily Workman

Emily Workman graduated from Garner Magnet High School in Garner, North Carolina, in a drive-through ceremony in 2020.

Emily Workman is earning her Bachelor of Science in science education with a concentration in middle school grades. She’s joining a line of family members who graduated from NC State to become science educators.

What does this commencement mean to you?

It’s going to be so real when I see everyone in their caps and gowns. These past four years have flown by. Looking back, I filled every single semester with such meaningful relationships and activities, I did the best I could in all my classes, and yet I feel like I haven’t done everything that I wanted to. 

How did you know you wanted to teach? 

I’ve been playing teacher since I was 3, but in the eighth grade, I think that’s when I knew that I had an eye for the classroom and the ability to explain things to people and the passion to share knowledge with others. And science is kind of the culmination of everything — of English and social studies and math. You have to apply all those principles to a real life scenario, and you get to appreciate the world in a different way. I love science.

How has NC State shaped the teacher you want to be?

In the College of Education, people like my advisors anticipate my needs, and they chase and seek after me to support me with answers to questions I didn’t even know I had. I am so appreciative of that, and I think that’s the type of person that I want to be — anticipating the needs of others and being quick to give and fulfill those needs. I also want to be fun; NC State is a very academically rigorous place, but in the College of Education, we’re all supporting each other and cheering each other on. That’s who I want to be for my kiddos and my colleagues. There’s something to be said about people who are passionate. It kind of bubbles over people. It’s a cup that overflows into others as we spread joy. 

What would you tell your 18-year-old self about your time at NC State?

She’s got to write down memories, take all the pictures and just soak it all in and bask in the light. It’s wonderful. In college, you get to develop your people groups. In high school you don’t get that; in middle school you don’t get that. As a middle school teacher, I see that — some of my students are like, “I’m tired of these people. I want to choose my own friends.” I’ll say, “You won’t get that until college, I’m sorry.” I’ve found my niche here, and I’m so thankful for that.

What’s next for you?

I’ve participated in Reformed University Fellowship, which is a Presbyterian-based college ministry, and I have made my lifelong best friends there. I’m doing an internship with that group at Christopher Newport University in Virginia for two years.