Class of 2023 Valedictorian Sara Elshaer
Valedictorian Sara Elshaer ’23 Lands Job with FBI

Major/Degree: Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science with a specialization in Toxicology
Cohort: Honors Program, PRISM, FEMMS
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Career aspiration: FBI Agent

“Getting a job offer from the FBI has been a dream come true. There are not many hijabi women working in law enforcement. I’m excited to represent people who look like me and pave the way for the next generation.”

How did it feel being named valedictorian?
Growing up, when I thought about my future, I would look around to see who looked like me, followed my beliefs, and accomplished similar goals. A lot of times, that was hard to find. So, being named valedictorian means representation. I represent not only the young girls that look like me and share my beliefs, but also people of color. I hope they feel inspired and know that with hard work and dedication, they too can accomplish anything. 

What was life like before John Jay?
My parents immigrated to this country—my dad from Egypt and my mom from Morocco. Seeing their struggles and how hard they worked to ensure I had access to an education fueled my drive to succeed and gave me a greater appreciation for them and their incredible sacrifices. I’m so proud to be their daughter.

In the fourth grade, I wanted to be just like my mom, so I started wearing a hijab. What I wasn’t expecting was the immediate backlash. My “friends” called me ugly and stopped talking to me. From that day, I felt less than, like I didn’t belong. But when I came to John Jay College, that all changed.

Why John Jay?
Initially, I was drawn to the College for its forensic science program. I was interested in that cross between STEM, solving crimes, serving justice, and helping people. But what I found most empowering was John Jay’s role as a minority-serving institution. Everyone at the College looks different and comes from a diverse background, yet there is a profound acceptance and celebration of these differences. That positivity led me to grow more confident in myself. Today I can say I’m proud to be me and wear my hijab because of John Jay. My experience at the College taught me that being the only person in the room who looks like me can be empowering.

How have the Honors Program and PRISM enhanced your experience?
PRISM helped me expand my definition of research, and Honors improved my writing skills. Both helped me step outside the box, network, and explore topics beyond my major. I was encouraged to participate in various campus activities and immerse myself in disciplines that didn’t involve chemistry or lab work, making me a well-rounded student. Because of Honors and PRISM, I know that when I become an FBI agent, the research techniques, literature reviews, and outside-the-box thinking I’ve learned will help me be a better agent.

Sara Elshaer in her PRISM lab coat

Were there any internships that furthered your career aspirations?
I had an FBI Honors Internship at Quantico last summer, working in the Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit. One of my favorite things about the internship was that it combined my love of STEM and justice, and encouraged critical thinking and problem-solving. I also learned from people working in the field, which made the training engaging. Interning with the FBI affirmed that I was on the right path and led to a full-time job offer from the agency.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself being a successful FBI agent, leaving an imprint on people’s lives, helping justice get served, and reassuring victims and their families. I also hope to be in a leadership position, training people and mentoring interns. If possible, I’d love to stay connected to John Jay by working as an adjunct professor. I know how valuable guidance and support are at the College—it can be a total game changer for students. I’d love to help students achieve their dreams.