Learn as if you were following someone whom you could not catch up, as though it was someone you were frightened of losing. – Confucius
The Chinese philosopher offered that advice 2,500 years ago, but if one browses the resume of Tuana Yazici ‘18, she seems the very embodiment of that counsel about learning. Her accomplishments are not just impressive for someone who is 17. Her resume actually has the kind of heft that makes readers re-think their own growing up and wonder what they might have accomplished in life if they hadn’t frittered away quite so much time on, well, all those long-forgotten diversions that seemed so crucial back in the day.
Tuana is the only child of Mehmet and Sehrazat Yazici. The family hails from Turkey, where they lived until she was nine when they moved to South Florida. By that point, the children’s book she authored at age seven had already become a bestseller in Turkey and her second book, a compilation of columns about animals and the environment that she wrote for BonBon, a monthly educational magazine targeted to Turkish-American children, was about to be published.
And she was just getting started.
BonBon is a bilingual magazine (English-Turkish), and Tuana was fluent in two languages when she moved to the states. But those two languages happened to be German and Turkish. She had attended an Austrian school in Turkey, and they didn’t start teaching English there until the year after she left. So, she arrived at school in the U.S. knowing virtually no English. But after three months, the determined fourth grader was able to communicate in English and navigate all her classes successfully. (She has also learned French to round things out).
Ms. Yazici’s father is a business executive. Her mother is an architect and an artist. Art has been a driving force in Tuana’s life as far back as she can remember, she said. “I first started drawing with Play-Doh…. I put it on paper and started to draw on it. It was kind of like my technique. And after it dried, it became a very interesting piece of art.”
So interesting, in fact, that a gallery in Istanbul hosted an exhibit of her art work when she was four.
She has stayed busy ever since.
“I enjoy being busy,” she said. “I‘ve never had a time where I say I wish I didn’t do this. My parents always say you’re way too busy. They never want me to take on more stuff than I can handle. But this is all me. They never push stuff at me, but they are very chill about it and very supportive. I just keep getting more stuff on my plate and then see something else and want to do that.”
Her years in the Austrian school, she said, provided her with a very disciplined approach to managing time, which has served her in good stead at Saint Andrew’s, where she is an IB diploma student. Also, discipline was a natural byproduct of karate, ballet, and piano, all of which she started when she was not yet four years old. She had to give up ballet after 11 years because of knee injuries, but she has continued with karate (and is now a brown belt) and piano.
“When I get time to myself, what I really like to do is to practice piano,” she said. “My piano exam is coming up this summer. Currently, I am working on Chopin's Deux Polonaises Op. 40, Bach No 6 from the Three-part inventions, Beethoven Op. 49 No 2, and Cramer's No 2 and No 8.”
Animal welfare is another passion. An early experience raising a fawn in Turkey sparked the interest. It also prompted Tuana, at age seven, to become a vegetarian. At Saint Andrew’s, in her sophomore year she started two animal welfare clubs that she continues to lead. One, Turtle Habitation, is devoted to education about the dangers posed to sea turtles from plastic waste that ends up in the ocean. She and the 30-plus club members do beach sweeps to help reduce that waste flow. And this past spring, just before Earth Day, she also delivered a PowerPoint with club members to kindergarteners at Saint Andrew’s about sea turtles and the hazards they face. She said she also made a similar presentation to kindergarten classes in Turkey recently. Tuana said she was inspired by the work of a woman who moved to the Turkish coast from England and realized after she had built her house that it was in the middle of a sea turtle nesting area. The woman pledged to do something to redeem herself and created a sea turtle hospital for the rescue and rehabilitation of injured turtles.
Tuana also started a horse liberation club. She believes horse-drawn carriages are unnecessary and generally debilitating for the horses yoked to them. Horses are a recurrent theme in her artwork. She prepared and delivered a presentation for the Upper School this spring tracing the evolution of horse-drawn carriages and included a photo gallery she compiled on the topic.
She likes to program time away from school as ambitiously as time spent on campus. For her immersion experience in January, she interned in New York at an accounting firm and got a private tour of Wall Street. Tauna said even though art and philosophy are her foremost interests, “I believe everyone should have a basic understanding of accounting.”
To that end, last summer, she also took courses on philosophy and economics at Oxford and business management at Cambridge.
By this past March, she had already programmed her summer. “I plan to finish two books I am writing and illustrating (about sea turtles and plastic waste and about horse-drawn carriages and why they should be eliminated), Then, I have my piano exams. After that, I have been accepted and will attend Franklin University in Lugano, Switzerland, for two weeks, studying global ecology and international economics from the Swiss perspective.”
Then, there will be a vacation with her family in Turkey, where she can pursue one of her recreational hobbies, flyboarding, which involves having jets attached to her feet that launches Tuana up to 50 feet in the air on a fountain of water. Then she can dive back into the water and the jets will power her beneath the surface.
The kind of perspective that comes from this rapid change is not for the faint of heart and was also part of the appeal for Tuana’s becoming a helicopter pilot. “I need 38 more hours to get my license,” she said. “I’ve been fascinated with helicopters for a very long time. It actually ties into art. Flying in a helicopter changes your perspective. It’s like a different door opens and you have this different view of the world.”
Tuana explains, “I wasn’t able to do it this past winter because of basketball practice (she plays on Saint Andrew’s girls varsity team). But I want to start up again and get my license. And after you qualify for a helicopter license, it takes much less time to get a pilot’s license.”
She is interested in the Ivy League. “I would like to study philosophy,” she said. “After studying other philosophers and their perspectives, I would like to come to my own point of view and have that reflected in my art.”
“Right now, I really want to fill my brain up with as much as possible. At some point, I will have to make my own path in the world.”
She wants to be ready for that.
Dr. Charlotte Coyle, who was both a teacher and advisor to Tuana through grade 9 and 10, believes she will be.
“She is an incredibly powerful and persuasive young woman who wants to do good in the world,” said Dr. Coyle. “She stands out in her peer group as a leader. She is more serious than some, but that’s a good thing. She is also very caring and very loving.”
“It really makes me smile to think 10 years down the road what we will be hearing about Tuana. We will be hearing more. She is very, very determined to be an agent of change in the world.”