Princeton University has named its first black valedictorian in the Ivy League school’s 274-year history.
Nicholas Johnson of Montreal, Canada, has secured the distinct title after earning top honors at the university.
Johnson studied operations research and financial engineering, according to a news release.
‘It feels empowering. Being Princeton’s first Black Valedictorian holds special significance to me particularly given Princeton’s historical ties to the institution of slavery,’ Johnson told CNN.
‘I hope that this achievement motivates and inspires younger black students, particularly those interested in STEM fields.’
Nicholas Johnson (pictured) was named Princeton University’s first black valedictorian in the school’s 274-year history
At Princeton University, Johnson participated in international internships and cultural immersion trips to Hong Kong, Peru and the United Kingdom.
Although those trips were significant to Johnson, his fondest memories are those he made with classmates and friends.
‘My favorite memories of my time at Princeton are memories of time spent with close friends and classmates engaging in stimulating discussions — often late at night — about our beliefs, the cultures and environments in which we were raised, the state of the world, and how we plan on contributing positively to it in our own unique way,’ he said in a statement.
Johnson said he’s grateful for the encouragement he received at Princeton, and specifically praised two teachers who positively impacted his experience.
William Massey, the Edwin S. Wilsey Professor of Operations Research and Financial Engineering, and Dannelle Gutarra Cordero, a lecturer in African American studies, helped him achieve new heights.
‘Professor Massey inspired me by sharing his ever-present love for operations research and through his advocacy for black and African American students in STEM fields,’ Johnson said.
While at Princeton University (pictured), Johnson studied operations research and financial engineering
‘He encouraged me to pursue increasingly ambitious research projects and to share my work at academic conferences.
‘Professor Gutarra introduced me to academic writing during my first-year Writing Seminar. She was instrumental in helping me develop my skills as an effective academic writer and communicator, and she motivated me to become a writing fellow.’
Johnson’s senior thesis focused on developing algorithms to create a community-based preventative health intervention to decrease obesity in Canada.
‘This work…also has applications to public health interventions designed to increase adherence to strict social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19,’ the statement said.
As a rising senior, Johnson worked as a software engineer in machine learning at Google’s headquarters in California.
He previously interned at Oxford University’s Integrative Computational Biology and Machine Learning Group.
This upcoming fall, Johnson (pictured) will continue his studies by pursing a PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology
This summer, Johnson will intern as a hybrid quantitive researcher and software developer at D.E. Shaw Group, a global technology and investment development firm.
Then, he will pursue a PhD in operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall.
The coronavirus pandemic has cancelled the in-person graduation for the Princeton University Class of 2020, but a virtual ceremony will be held on May 31.
Johnson said it’s ‘disappointing’ the graduating class can’t celebrate with each other this year, but he’s grateful the administration chose to host ‘an in person commencement for my class in Spring 2021 to celebrate our achievements.’
‘I have been comforted to see how well my friends and classmates have adapted to these challenging times,’ Johnson said.
‘And have ensured that Princeton’s strong community persists virtually despite our physical separation from one another.’