A Sit-Down with the Valedictorian and Salutatorian of the Class of 2023


Brooklyn Tech’s Class of 2023 celebrates a landmark graduation year as the school’s Centennial class. This has also been a historic school year for the class’ graduating leaders, including the top two students. The valedictorian, Afifa Tanisa, is the first recorded hijabi in the top two of a graduating class, and the salutatorian, Roberto Quesada, is the first Latino to earn the same distinction. The Survey sat down with them to reflect on their time at Tech, and look ahead to the next chapters of their lives.


For Tanisa, the title of valedictorian holds great personal significance. She noted, “[It means a lot] for my parents who put in so much for me because I come from an immigrant family and when I graduate college, I’m going to be one of the first female college graduates in all of my entire extended family.”

For Quesada, being salutatorian was an achievement he shared with other Latino students at Tech. “In my four years being here, I’ve been to all of the graduations,” he said. “I just never saw a Latino person take the stage and give a speech. Especially with the low number of Latino students at our school, it often felt like there’s a lack of representation or lack of a feeling that there are students like you that you can look up to.” Less than 7% of Tech’s student body is Hispanic, which has made it difficult for many Hispanic students to find role models among upperclassmen. “It feels very good and I’m proud,” Quesada added. “I hope it shows that we’re capable and that it breaks those glass ceilings.”

Tanisa is also grateful for the positivity and inspiration she is able to carry through her title as an immigrant herself, as well as a hijabi. “The title itself, I think—you can inspire so many people with it. That’s one thing I’m happy about—that people see me at the top of the class, like ‘If she can do it, I can do it.'”

Both students have been humble about finishing at the top of the class. “I don’t think just because you have the highest grades, you’re a better student than somebody else,” Quesada noted.

Tanisa stressed that individual students at Tech have different experiences and priorities that cause certain students to be ranked higher than others. “I think the system itself is flawed, like the grading…[For some students] because we pick a major we like, we can’t be at the top of the class because we don’t have weighted classes,” she explained.


Brooklyn Tech has recently terminated the declaration of a group of “Top 10” students per grade, as well as the use of the honor roll due to criticism from the school community, raising concerns about the importance of grades and their effects on students.

Tanisa emphasized her belief that academic experiences and efforts were more important than the ranks that result from them. “At the end of the day, it means a lot to me, to my parents, being at the top of Brooklyn Tech,” she stated. “But also, five years down the line, ten years down the line…no one’s going to really remember that you’re the valedictorian or salutatorian. It’s really what you make of your education. Yes, I have this title now, but that doesn’t guarantee that I’m going to be successful in the future. I have to stay motivated.”

Quesada also added, “Success comes in different ways…the things that have been more fulfilling in high school are actually not the ranks or the stats and things like that. It’s been the experiences I’ve gotten working with others, interacting with others, and being able to do things like fight for causes and see your advocacy working.”

While dealing with her home life, Tanisa drove herself to make the most out of her education throughout high school. “I just had to push myself harder and stay motivated and on track, like I couldn’t really slack off,” she said. Her advice to others is to stay involved in classes to make the most of them. She stressed that students should actually like what classes they are taking. “When I started …learning the material and liking it rather than [focusing on] the actual grade, I performed much better.”

Tanisa also acknowledged that growth, academically and otherwise, takes time and experience. “I wasn’t a perfect student freshman year. I’m not now,” she admits. “But I’m definitely a better student than I was freshman year. I would just grow from that.”

Quesada echoed this sentiment. “For me, it was just about finding joy in the things that I had to do,” he reflected. “Even with academics, for example, I made sure that, yes, I [took] AP classes, but I made sure to take AP classes that I was interested in.”


For Quesada, experiences beyond the classroom were just as important to his personal growth at Tech as his academic achievements. “I think [my extracurriculars] were very enjoyable things, like debate or getting involved in politics and social justice issues, causes that are specific to me and that touch my Hispanic and immigrant background,” he explained. “And by doing that type of advocacy, I think it made it so that my extracurriculars felt like things that I enjoyed, that I was able to balance out.”

Quesada was active in politics and debate throughout his time at Tech, such as advocating for social and environmental justice, which were his motivating passions. “In debate, I started out locally, just competing here in New York City, but I developed my skills and I was able to start winning national competitions and became a member of the USA Debate Team,” he recalled. “And through that I was able to get so many opportunities. If I hadn’t gone to Brooklyn Tech and gotten this education, I wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity to travel.”

Tanisa also recognizes the importance of following one’s passions and not just the college admissions rat race. “Enjoy the high school experience,” she said. “You’re working on your grades and you’re working on your extracurriculars for college. But don’t do it with college in mind. You want to do it for yourself because when you do it for yourself it actually shows off. Because what you’re doing for college, everyone else is doing for college. But when you do it for yourself, you make a difference that other people are not making.”


Both Tanisa and Quesada expressed that Tech set them up for success, academically and personally. “Brooklyn Tech has so many opportunities–it’s about taking advantage of those,” said Quesada.

Tanisa and Quesada both look back fondly on their high school experiences and the impacts that they had on their growth. “I don’t have many regrets in terms of what I’ve done,” said Quesada. “Even my lowest points at this school, for me they were all learning lessons, learning little things…Sometimes it’s important to recognize that rejection is redirection and when things fail there’s a lesson to learn from it or there’s something about that situation that will help you grow and become a better person or become more aware of things you may not have known.”

Additionally, Quesada advises students to speak up when they feel necessary, even when it may seem daunting. “Advocate for yourself,” he insisted. “I think sometimes it can be scary in a place this big. Advocate for yourself, for your communities, or for causes you care about. I think that’s very important. And oftentimes, it might be difficult to be the first person to speak up, but realize that there are other people who are also thinking what you are thinking but didn’t say it.”

Tanisa credited the academic foundation Tech provided her that allowed her to strive and achieve, and she encourages students to make the most of it. “We know what is expected of us, and we’re given the resources to strive for the best,” she explained. “The teachers at this school are actually phenomenal. They want you to be successful and they’re rooting for you. So don’t shy away from your teachers. If you’re struggling, let them know and I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to help.”

Quesada also provided a few words of advice to students from low-income families, immigrant backgrounds, and minority groups that may feel isolated in a school as large as Tech that might not have too many students like them. “Be your own advocate and remember to tell yourself that you can do this and ‘I can push forward’ even when it’s difficult and even when you feel imposter syndrome in places when you may be surrounded by people with a lot more privilege than you. Knowing that yes, you belong and yes, it’s possible, and I think in doing that you can really set yourself up to succeed and accomplish whatever you want to do.”

However, Quesada expressed regret at not getting to know more of his peers. “There are so many people at this school that I haven’t met before, or haven’t talked to, so maybe if I could start again I would make more effort to reach out to different people and try to learn their stories,” he said. “I think in college I’m definitely going to try to do that and just make sure that I speak with people and make the most of the diversity that’s there.”

Tanisa agreed on the importance of learning from a diverse community and described the significance of the Brooklyn Tech community. “Another thing that I really like about this school is the people,” she expressed. “It’s such a diverse community. People come in from all parts of the city. It’s like a little mini New York City in this building. You see people who look different, who think differently, and then you get to learn about their experiences, and that just informs your understanding of the world.”


Tanisa, a Software Engineering Major, will be attending Columbia University (SEAS) in the fall, where she will be majoring in Applied Mathematics. Quesada, an Environmental Engineering Major, will be studying Government at Harvard University.

“I’m very excited to meet new people, new friends,” Quesada expressed. “Boston is going to be a new environment, a new city, a fresh new start. And to really just take those lessons I learned from high school and apply them.”

Academically, Quesada is looking forward to the depth he will be able to learn in subjects he is interested in compared to classes in high school. “One thing I didn’t like about high school was that everything felt so structured…What I’m excited about in college is that I specifically chose a university where I knew I was going to have the ability to choose the classes I take, the professors…And that to me is important because it means I’ll be able to focus more on subjects that I care about.”

Tanisa chuckled, “I’m looking forward to having fun!”

As both these trailblazing students look ahead to bright, Ivy League horizons, they will always cherish the invaluable lessons and precious memories from their days at Brooklyn Tech. “Have fun, do things for yourself, and enjoy high school,” said Tanisa. “These four years won’t come back!”