Hi! My name is Yavuz Selim Topbas, but you can call me Yavuz for short! I’m an 18-year old Canadian citizen of joint Turkish, Macedonian, and Albanian descent! My maternal grandparents immigrated to the Republic of Turkey from the People’s Republic of Macedonia (part of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia at the time) in the mid 20th century. My grandmother is of Albanian descent, and she was born in the village of Nerezi near Skopje. My grandfather was born in Držilovo, in the municipality of Sopište. My grandparents got married in İzmir, where my mother was also born. As for my father, he is a Turk hailing from region of Eskişehir! After meeting and getting married, my parents immigrated to Canada where my story started!
I was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, where I spent most of my childhood. I currently go to Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, where I’m in the second year of my pursuit of a Bachelor of Public Affairs & Policy Management degree, with a concentration in International Policy Studies and a specialization in International Relations & Conflict. As of this moment, I’m working at Shared Services Canada as a student analyst in the Cabinet & Parliamentary Affairs unit. However, I also have experience in the academic and financial industries! Alongside my job in the government this past summer, I also worked at Carleton University to help develop two courses: one, on Israeli-Palestinian relations, and; the second, on the relationship between Netflix-hosted entertainment media and socio-politics in the United States of America and Canada. On top of that, this summer I also helped develop an ‘Islamic Finance 101’ course for one of Canada’s top investment firms, CI Financial Corp. (I was working in Assante Wealth Management). Phew!
I usually like to focus on experiences, so I’ll start with that first and head over to achievements later. I grew up in rather underrepresented areas in Ontario which led me to experience infrastructural and societal problems first-hand. Some examples include physical ones; the fact that our playgrounds and schools were falling apart (one of our schools finally got demolished and rebuilt, thankfully), but some were more emotional, like the fact that many kids I grew up with did not have families, or did not have money to afford seemingly trivial things like milk. I saw my parents struggle with the insecure job market, and with the fact that they did not know the language of the land (this reminds me of my maternal grandparents when they arrived in the Republic of Turkey). Regardless though, as a child, I was very bubbly, always smiling, and was extremely energetic (I still always smile, or at least I try to!). However, I was very stubborn; I always wanted my way! But back to experiences… I think of the ones I’ve had growing up – some I talk about and some I don’t like to think about – as things that make me who I am. And those experiences slowly led to the finding of passions, and later onto the achievement of, well… achievements.
Before 2018, when I was in the first half of my high school, I was involved in a lot of student council activities and helped in intercultural dialogue events, as well as relief programs (e.g., I led student projects to send aid to people suffering from a drought in Somalia, an earthquake in Haiti, as well as local things like collecting non-perishables for a local women’s shelter). I was always a straight-to-the-point, outspoken, confident young person and this helped me excel in student leadership. However, I wanted to represent on a bigger scale in some way, as I felt like I could help shine light on the voices of underrepresented peoples. In 2018, when I was in my second-last year of high school, I started studying at Emery Collegiate Institute, which was an underrepresented school itself. At the school, one of the teachers gave me a ticket to a board organized student leadership conference. At the conference, I met a guy exact my age, who turned out to be one of the two elected student trustees of the Toronto District School Board. Wow, this guy was really representing 250,000 students in Canada’s largest school Board; North America’s 3rd largest. He was… representing! I talked to him and was immediately inspired by the things he told me about. I feel like that conversation could have gone two ways. One where I would have gotten jealous of the fact that this guy was a leader like me, except at a much larger level, or one where I could look up to him as a peer-mentor and allow myself to be inspired. I chose the latter.
After that encounter, I made it a mission to represent, in the largest sense possible. I said to myself, if this champ can do it, I can too. I ran for office a couple months after and was successfully elected as the President of the Student Senate, the board-level student government in the Toronto District School Board. Now, just like him (now my colleague), I was representing thousands of students, and it just felt right. I tried to advocate for the inclusion of underrepresented neighbourhoods in policy development, and my presidency saw the Board switch to online voting (more equitable) as well as changes in the Board-wide dress code that reduced stereotyping of racialized groups. At the same time, I was actively involved in politics, and worked on various political campaigns (I later was a founding member in my riding’s federal youth council). At school, I also became President of our school’s Business Club, and actually got TD Bank, yes, TD Bank, to sponsor us with thousands of dollars for the creation of a financial literacy conference for young leaders in our otherwise fiscally underrepresented school. That event still resonates in our school community.
On top of all of the things listed, I co-led our high school’s March for Education rally, which got the attention of our city’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star. Beside that, I founded and led my own non-profit with my friends (currently indefinitely suspended due to our executive’s commitments to school), PowerInYouth, which focused on the creation of networking events for underrepresented young people. There was an infrastructural problem that our organization found a fix to through discussion: many networking events (even ones for youth) were inaccessible to students in high-priority neighborhoods because they were just too far (Toronto is big!). This would create long-term career blocks as students couldn’t meet potentially-life-changing mentors (shoutout to my mentors). So, we decided to bring networking events home. We held an event at a local library and managed to bring many leaders, including many elected leaders in the area. At the end of the day, one of the attendants came up to me, said, “I love you, man” and told me that I inspired him. I felt happy, because I knew how much one inspirational encounter did to me.
Anyway, I wrapped up high school in 2019, getting into a program focused on policy development and government administration (I wanted to help shape policy so I could fix systematic problems). At the end of high school, I was thankful to be recognized for a lot of the student leadership I had done, even though it really was about representing the community, not myself. Notably, I was awarded the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Citizenship Award and Scholarship, Carleton University’s President’s Scholarship, and was a Schulich Leader Nominee. Furthermore, I was awarded Merit Award’s top “Leader of Tomorrow” scholarship for exceptional community leadership. Among other things, my MPP also recognized me with a Youth Leadership award.
The summer between high school and university, I did a government-sponsored exchange program and worked as a camp counsellor at a summer camp for children with autism, in Laval, Quebec. It was a good experience where I was able to learn French in the span of one summer with the help of my colleagues and community. I also learned that I might have a love for teaching!
Fast forward a little bit! When I started university, I got hired right off the bat by a certain Director of Cabinet & Parliamentary Affairs at Shared Services Canada (who I met at a networking event— see, networking events really help with your career!). I also was involved with our Carleton International Relations Society, and went to the Republic of Guatemala on behalf of Carleton University to teach English to Guatemalan kids in a school for low-income students. I managed to make the Dean’s List as well, and was listed on the Top 15% for my program by academic average. Once the academic year ended, I also launched my own company, PoliDolls, which focuses on the creation of plush dolls based around contemporary politicians (think Justin Trudeau!).
A lot of these things were both experiences, and achievements. I learned a lot from all of these equally-unique projects, and I’m now standing here even more hungry to give back and develop myself as well. I’ve used “I” a lot here, but it was really my community that helped me do all this. Hundreds, if not thousands of people are part of these unique experiences, and I appreciate each and every one of them that I have had the pleasure of working with through my involvements.
I hope to see myself in management roles in government in the future. I want to be able to lead through policy, whether it be at the development phase or the execution phase. I am particularly interested in transportation, regulation, social development, international relations, and diplomacy, and I hope to do more work in the field this upcoming year. On the topic of transportation, I currently have a spot on Metrolinx’s Combined Construction Liaison Committee (CLC) for the Finch West LRT project (which runs through my community), where I’m helping Metrolinx perfect its delivery of its ongoing transportation project. I’m also a Provincial Riding Representative for the Ontario Provincial Youth Council, where I hope to help in the drafting of effective policy papers on the topic of transportation, social development, and policing/justice reform. I’m also currently the President of the Carleton University Turkish Students Association (CUTSA), so I hope to lead the club through these unprecedented times. Oh, and my business! PoliDolls recently got multiple investments so I hope to continue to work on it so that it can grow.
Regardless of whether my life takes me, I just want to continue to have a smile and do good for those around me. Because I wholeheartedly believe that it does take a village, and that true happiness comes from seeing the people you love great things. As they say, stronger together. Oh, and I hope to visit Macedonia one day, and contribute to the communities there as well, while also exploring that side of my identity. Vi blagodaram!