274 Years in The Making: Princeton’s First Black Valedictorian

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(photo credit: Lisa Festa, Center for Career Development/Princeton University)

By V&V Staff Writer

Nicholas Johnson, an Operations Research And Financial Engineering major from Canada, was officially named Princeton University’s valedictorian for the class of 2020. This makes him the first black valedictorian in the famed university’s 274-year history.

“Being Princeton’s first black valedictorian is very empowering,” stated Mr. Johnson. “I hope this achievement serves as inspiration to black students coming up behind me.”

According to Princeton’s statistics, about 9% of all undergraduates are black.

At Princeton, valedictorian (top of the class) and salutatorian (2nd in the class) are awarded by faculty vote. While only top-ranking students are considered, there is more to consider than just GPA decimals. Among other things, faculty recognised Johnson’s drive to give back to the community. Professor William A. Massey noted of Johnson, “He’s somebody interested in channeling his skills to serve humanity”.

As expected, Mr. Johnson is indeed a cut above. He is a member of Engineers Without Borders, and served as the Princeton chapter’s co-president in 2018. He was also a writing fellow at Princeton’s Writing Center. He served as a residential adviser on campus, had summer internships at both Google and Oxford University, and participated in cultural immersion trips to Peru and Hong Kong. Johnson’s academic honors include being elected to Phi Beta Kappa and to Tau Beta Pi. He served as president of the Princeton Chapter of Tau Beta Pi in 2019.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Johnson and his class will be unable to walk. Instead, Princeton is holding a virtual graduation on May 31st. There are plans to hold a belated ceremony in May 2021.

After graduation, Johnson will spend the summer interning at the D. E. Shaw Group. In autumn, he will be attending M.I.T. for Ph.D. studies in Operations Research.

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