- Nicholas Johnson, a Canadian student graduating with a major in operations research and financial engineering, was named Princeton University’s valedictorian.
- He’s the first black student to be named valedictorian in the school’s 274-year history.
- Johnson called the title “empowering,” and said being the school’s first black valedictorian “holds special significance to me particularly given Princeton’s historical ties to the institution of slavery.”
- Princeton’s first nine presidents were all known slave owners, and enslaved people lived in the university’s President’s House until at least 1822.
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Princeton University has named its first black valedictorian in the school’s 274-year- history, and the student receiving the title called it “empowering.”
Nicholas Johnson was named the school’s valedictorian in a news release from Princeton. Johnson is a student from Montreal, Canada, who will be graduating with a major in operations research and financial engineering, according to CNN.
“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.”
During his time at Princeton, Johnson was part of the school’s Engineers Without Borders and worked as a software engineer at Google’s California campus.
His senior thesis looks into the obesity epidemic in Canada, and, according to Princeton, focuses on developing “high-performance, efficient algorithms to solve a network-based optimisation problem that models a community-based preventative health intervention designed to curb the prevalence of obesity in Canada.”
Princeton has named its first Black valedictorian. The university is 274 years old.
Nicholas Johnson studied financial engineering. He told @CNN his achievement has special significance to him given the school's "historical ties to the institution of slavery." (????: Princeton) pic.twitter.com/IGWf1gWGiU
— AJ+ (@ajplus) May 11, 2020
Upon graduating, Johnson will intern as a software developer and quantitative researcher at the global investment firm D.E. Shaw Group. He’ll then start a PhD. program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Johnson told CNN that it is “disappointing” his class won’t have an in-person graduation because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The university is holding a virtual ceremony on May 31.
“I have been comforted to see how well my friends and classmates have adapted to these challenging times, and have ensured that Princeton’s strong community persists virtually despite our physical separation from one another,” he told CNN.
Though he has yet to write his speech, he’s planning on speaking about his academic success and graduating in the midst of a pandemic, according to ABC News.
He told ABC News that he was “really surprised” to learn he had been named the valedictorian, in part because of the school’s deep ties to slavery.
“Don’t let yourself be intimidated by individuals who don’t look like you and might be dominating the space you are trying to enter,” Johnson told ABC News.
Princeton, founded as the College of New Jersey in 1746, has ties to slavery dating back to the 1700s. The university’s first nine presidents all owned slaves, and until at least 1822, enslaved people lived at the university’s President’s House, according to the school’s Princeton & Slavery project.
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