York International School valedictorian headed to NYU Film School

The Mapleton community may want to pay closer attention to the Oscars in the coming years. Tiana L., the 2023 York International School valedictorian, is set to attend the New York University Kanbar Institute of Film and Television next year after earning a full scholarship. According to their website, past graduates include directors like Chris Columbus (Harry Potter, Home Alone) Jon Watts (Spiderman: Homecoming), and Joel Coen (No Country for Old Men). Tiana could be someone else they tout someday.

She said she almost can’t believe that her sizeable tuition, room, and board will be covered and is grateful that will alleviate a great deal of stress as she chases her dream of becoming a filmmaker. She was more confident she would earn the valedictorian title, but admits it wasn’t always easy.

“It took a lot of hard work and, honestly, there were a lot of things I thought would be my downfall, especially math,” she said. “But in the end, I was able to persevere by working with my teachers to do what I needed to keep my grades up.”

York’s school director, Eriksen Van Etten, never doubted her. 

“She’s been driven since I’ve known her and she always overcame adversity and never strayed from her path,” he said. “To see her graduate with all her accolades is truly incredible. We’re going to miss her a lot.”

Tiana has attended York since third grade and though she has seen it expand a little over the years, she appreciates that it never felt too big. 

“It’s nice to have that small sense of family where I still see my elementary teachers, who ask how I’ve been, and our high school is just a little hallway because it makes things so much more tight-knit,” she said. “I feel like if I was at a bigger school, it would have been a lot more difficult for me to succeed the way I have because I wouldn’t have been able to establish the relationships I did with my teachers and even the director.”

Tiana said she has pursued art her whole life, initially dabbling in painting, sketching, and sculpture before falling in love with filmmaking. That began around last March when she produced a video collage about her Mexican heritage. The Denver Theatre District then projected the video on the side of the Daniels & Fisher Tower, on Denver’s 16th Street Mall, for their “Denver Night Lights” program. The program is a way for the Denver Theatre District to support innovative local, national, and international innovative artists.  

clock tower

She is also passionate about advocacy, as evidenced by her participation in the Colorado Youth Congress (CYC). The CYC organizes high school students statewide to lead the fight for civic change. Tiana has been involved with their initiatives to improve equity and mitigate gun violence. 

She could see herself combining her interest in art and advocacy, especially after being inspired by the Academy Award-winning movie “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” She was drawn to how it depicted an Asian family going through familial difficulties.

“Asians are a group that isn’t usually represented in the media, and I’d like to do similar projects that make other voices heard that aren’t often shown,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m really passionate about the path I’m taking because I want to do something that hasn’t been done before.”

When she graduates from NYU, Tiana said she wants to explore different roles in filmmaking, though she is leaning toward directing. She also is also interested in starting an organization that supports Latina filmmakers because there are so few in the industry.