Taj Jethwani-Keyser and Matthew Ferencz Are Named Valedictorian and Salutatorian For the Class of 2023

The Bronx Science Valedictorian Taj Jethwani-Keyser ’23 and Salutatorian Matthew Ferencz ’23 for the Class of 2023 discuss their experiences, give some advice, and express their gratitude to the Bronx Science community.


Alexander Thorp

Pictured here are the Salutatorian Matthew Ferencz ’23 (at left) and the Valedictorian Taj Jethwani-Keyser ’23 (at right) for the graduating Class of 2023.

As their senior year comes to an end, the Class of 2023 is looking ahead to their graduation and looking back on their high school careers. Two Bronx Science seniors are doing so with added purpose as they work to craft graduation speeches that move and inspire their fellow classmates: our Valedictorian, Taj Jethwani-Keyser ’23, and our Salutatorian, Matthew Ferencz ’23.

Jethwani-Keyser has a GPA of 99.629 and Ferencz has a GPA of 99.34. These are among the highest final GPAs in the school’s history. The two will deliver remarks to the graduating Class of 2023, in their speeches, at Bronx Science’s 95th Commencement Ceremony on Friday, June 23rd, 2023, which will be held at The United Palace Theater. 

For our Valedictorian and Salutatorian, graduating is bittersweet – a mix of relief, excitement, anxiety, sentimentality, and gratitude. “It’s a big honor,” said Jethwani-Keyser, known to almost everyone in the Bronx Science community as Wolfie (shortened from his middle name, Wolfgang). “It also symbolizes just a lot of the effort I’ve put into academics in general, so in that sense, graduating from Bronx Science is a clean slate, both in a good and bad way. It’s sort of like all this effort and this community that I’ve been a part of for so long is finished. At the same time, it’s nice to have some closure.”

For Ferencz, the feelings are similar: “I’m honored. But I’m also a bit sad. I’ve spent four years of my life here, and now I have to say goodbye to so many people,” Ferencz said.

Ferencz will be attending the University of Pennsylvania starting in the fall of 2023, with a plan to major in biochemistry on a pre-medical track while also taking classes in Mandarin and the arts (particularly in music). 

Jethwani-Keyser will be attending Harvard University in the fall of 2023, with an intended major in computer science. He also plans to study math, physics, and public policy. 

Computer science was an early interest for Jethwani-Keyser, who co-founded the Cybersecurity and Ethical Hacking club at Bronx Science. Since getting his start with computer science around sixth grade, he has been drawn to coding. While coming to Bronx Science helped Jethwani-Keyser to find many other students who shared his passion for computer science, classes like Advanced Placement U.S. History, as well as Speech & Debate, also helped him to discover his interests in the humanities, too. “I’m still STEM-leaning, but I was much more STEM-leaning coming into high school than I am now,” he said. 

For Jethwani-Keyser, one of the biggest keys to academic success is “trying really, really hard not to fall behind. Once you start falling behind, it becomes exponentially harder to catch up,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I was willing to sacrifice some of my external time to get things done, and in the process, I ended up having more time for myself in the long run.”

The two also recommend that current Bronx Science students prioritize finding their interests, and that they focus their time and effort into the classes and activities that fulfill those interests. Another big piece of advice from Jethwani-Keyser is to take the hard classes. “It’s been my experience that the so-called advanced classes have highly engaged communities of students and teachers. It’s easiest for me to stay on top of everything and be excited to learn in higher level classes,” he said.

The two also acknowledge the importance of finding balance and protecting one’s mental health. “Sleep is key,” Ferencz said. Jethwani-Keyser added, “I definitely recommend if people are getting seriously stressed out, potentially staying home for their mental health or asking their teacher for an extension.” 

Despite having strong interests in STEM subjects, the two have been extensively involved with the Bronx Science Speech and Debate team since their ninth grade year. The activity has been time-consuming but quite enriching. “There were times when debate was more work than all my classes put together,” Jethwani-Keyser said. He is the Research Director of the Congressional Debate team, an extracurricular that has not only allowed him to improve his communication skills, but given him a more nuanced perspective on politics, academics, and the world as a whole. “Especially in Congress, because it’s so attached to current events, you really can’t go through four years on the congressional circuit without getting a pretty deep and sometimes disturbing understanding of how society works and how politics impacts real people, ” Jethwani-Keyser said. “You become very well read very quickly – there’s an empathy that comes with it. You can only debate minimum wage so many times before you’re very acutely aware of what modern capitalism does to lower classes and struggling populations in general.” 

Valedictorian Taj Jethwani-Keyser’23 (center) is Research Director of the Congressional Debate team at Bronx Science. (Sophia Markens)

Merging his understanding of politics with his interests in STEM enabled Jethwani-Keyser to explore deeper questions, including how artificial intelligence interacts with public policy. It inspired his science research project, too. Now, he’s considering minoring in political science – something that would have been “inconceivable” for his eighth-grade self. 

Ferencz competed in congressional debate for two years before switching to speech, where they explored topics including mixed-race identity and male mental health in the dramatic interpretation and original oratory events. “Both taught me how to be more comfortable with public speaking and also thinking off the fly,” Ferencz said. They also helped Ferencz to improve their writing skills and ability to connect with an audience.

Ferencz is also a Captain of the Boys’ Varsity Cross Country, Indoor Track, and Outdoor Track teams – teams they’ve been a part of since the ninth grade. The experience “taught me how to be a leader by being able to mentor and connect with the underclassmen, helping them to find their place on the team,” Ferencz said. As a captain, they hoped to help underclassmen find the same community they did through track and cross country.

This year, Ferencz performed as the character of Roger in the school’s production of the musical Rent. Though Ferencz has long enjoyed the arts, particularly musical theater, the decision to join was quite spur-of-the-moment. “I wasn’t even supposed to do it originally.” Ferencz said. “My friends and the director sort of peer-pressured me into filling out the form to audition the next day.”

Salutatorian Matthew Ferencz ’23 (second from left) performed as the character of Roger in the school’s production of the musical ‘Rent’ on May 18th and 19th, 2023. “It was one of the best times I’ve had at this school,” Ferencz said. “It was just really amazing, and I loved all the late nights of rehearsal.” (Marina Tiligadas )

For Ferencz, participating in the musical for the first time proved to be both challenging and incredibly rewarding. “The musical was probably the best community I’ve ever experienced at Bronx Science,” they said, “especially considering that I’ve only known them for one semester.”

Participating in Bronx Science’s science research program was another influential experience for Ferencz and Jethwani-Keyser, both of whom were finalists in the prestigious Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

Jethwani-Keyser worked in research at New York University for over a year before beginning his independent project in online misinformation. His work used natural language processing to look for patterns in the comment sections of misinformation on social media, and used his findings as a tool to create new models to detect misinformation online.

“The research community is very welcoming,” Jethwani-Keyser said. “Everyone I interacted with was very excited about what they were doing and also very excited to share their own wisdom about how research works. More recently, as I started engaging in research competitions, it’s also been a lot of fun, because the high school research community is really great. You can meet a ton of really interesting people.”

Ferencz participated in cancer research with doctors at the NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center. Though their mentors provided guidance, “it was more like my own job,” Ferencz said. “It really gave me insight into how the researching world is, and how to formulate my own research ideas and back them up with evidence.” Their independent research project incorporated machine learning and predictions in Python (a skill which Ferencz self-taught), taking data on drug sensitivity and gene specificity to predict and rank the most effective drug treatments for specific cancers. 

Ferencz explained that this research has significant potential for clinical use. Rather than prescribing generic drugs to any patient with a particular type of cancer, doctors can create specific, more effective treatments tailored to individual patients. This is done through identifying the mutated genes in an individual patient’s cancer, and using the code specified for those genes to identify the most effective treatment.

Ferencz’s decision to go into cancer research was greatly influenced by personal experience. “I have a history of cancer in my family, that’s why I went into it in the first place, to hopefully make some sort of impact in this field. I hope that I can continue cancer research in the future, because I know how difficult cancer can be for people,” said Ferencz. 

Although the 2022-2023 Cross-Country and Indoor Track seasons have ended at Bronx Science, long-distance running has continued to be a priority in Ferencz’s free time, as well as playing chess, watching movies (particularly Studio Ghibli films), spending time with friends, and baking, a hobby that Ferencz picked up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Outside of school and formal extracurriculars, Jethwani-Keyser enjoys spending time outdoors, especially hiking upstate with his golden retriever and exploring the city with friends. In his free time, he also codes, reads science-fiction, and dabbles in “extremely hobbyist ping-pong.”

For both Ferencz and Jethwani-Keyser, Advanced Placement Calculus BC and Advanced Placement Physics C have been some of the most stimulating and impactful classes during their high school careers. “A.P. Calculus BC kind of opened up a new world for me,” Ferencz said. “It’s a gateway; calculus is really important for a lot of advanced subjects. It allows you to navigate many topics that more closely follow the real world, and it helps you understand it. It also was a class that I really liked because it built on itself. We derived everything ourselves.”

What is Ferencz’s message to younger students at Bronx Science? Be persistent. “It might seem difficult right now, or that it’s too much – I felt like that a lot throughout my four years here – but you will get through it. You’re more persistent than you think. It will all pay off in the end,” Ferencz said. 

Focusing on true comprehension of academic course concepts, rather than worrying about test grades, is an important piece of advice, too. “It doesn’t really matter what grades you got or what college you’re going to go to. In the end, what stuck with me more is comprehending the material that I’ve learned and applying it in everyday life,” Ferencz added. “If you really know the concepts, if you’re able to explain and teach it to people, that’s what’s more important.” 

Taj Jethwani-Keyser and Matthew Ferencz are set to deliver their speeches at the Class of 2023’s commencement ceremony this June, 23rd, 2023, at The United Palace Theater in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan.

UPDATE: Click HERE to watch the video of Bronx Science’s 95th Commencement Ceremony at The United Palace Theater, which was held on Friday, June 23rd, 2023, including the speeches by Bronx Science’s Valedictorian, Taj Jethwani-Keyser ’23, and Salutatorian, Matthew Ferencz ’23.

For our Valedictorian and Salutatorian, graduating is bittersweet – a mix of relief, excitement, anxiety, sentimentality, and gratitude.