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A Winding Journey Completed

Student Commencement Speaker Finishes Longtime Goal of Graduating From UMD

By Liam Farrell

Bita Riazi

Photo by John T. Consoli

Bita Riazi will be the student speaker at the campus-wide winter commencement ceremony.

For Bita Riazi, graduating from the University of Maryland is the culmination of the hopes that her family carried to the United States nearly 30 years ago.

Her parents left Iran and all their relatives behind for Maryland in 1991, hoping then-1-year-old Riazi’s educational prospects would be brighter. And while the journey to a degree wasn’t a straight line, it has been rewarding.

“I had a lot of faculty who believed in me,” she says.

Riazi will be the student speaker at the campus-wide winter commencement ceremony on Dec. 17 at the Xfinity Center. It will celebrate graduates from August and December, a group that earned an estimated 2,503 bachelor's degrees, 1,564 master's degrees and 616 doctoral degrees. The main address will be given by Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr. (Ret.) ’63, former director of national intelligence; Maryland Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. ’64 will receive an honorary doctor of public service degree.

Riazi earned an associate’s degree in general studies from Montgomery College in 2011 and planned to immediately transfer to UMD. But when her parents faced several health crises, Riazi, an only child, instead took care of them and worked full time at a spa in Gaithersburg.

“I always did want to go back and finish school, but sometimes life happens,” she says. “Family is first.”

Beset by doubts about being able to navigate a return to higher education, Riazi attended three open houses at the Universities of Shady Grove, which offer several UMD degree programs, before taking the leap. It was the best way, she says, to honor the sacrifices that both she and her family had made.

“I’m going back for me,” she told her parents at the time, “but I’m really going back for you guys.”

Over the next two years of pursuing her bachelor’s degree in communication, Riazi made Dean’s List every semester and was nominated for the dean’s Senior Scholar Award. Since August, she has also been a programming and production intern in the D.C. Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment, booking guests, researching stories, writing scripts and other duties.

While interested now in a career in media and entertainment reporting, Riazi ultimately wants to work in a field that can help and inspire people, be it through writing or speaking. Her experience at UMD has been a key step toward that goal.

“Between the faculty and my fellow Terps, they all have such impeccable vision,” Riazi says.

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