In the 274-year history of Princeton University, the esteemed institution has never named a black valedictorian.
Finally, that run has come to an end. Nicholas Johnson has been named the valedictorian of the class of 2020.
Nicholas is a Canadian student majoring in operations research and financial engineering. “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,” he told CNN.
“I hope that this achievement motivates and inspires younger black students, particularly those interested in STEM fields.”
Nicholas has made the most of his Princeton experience. He enjoyed opportunities including international internships and cultural immersion trips to Peru, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom. He wrote his senior thesis on developing algorithms to design a community-based preventative health intervention to decrease obesity in Canada. He even worked as a software engineer in machine learning at Google’s California headquarters as part of Princeton’s Engineers Without Borders chapter.
Some of his favorite times have been spent with his classmates, however. “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,” Nicholas noted in the school’s press release.
There are big things in Nicholas’ future. This summer, he will intern as a hybrid quantitative researcher and software developer at the D.E. Shaw Group, a global investment and technology development firm. In the fall, he will begin his PhD studies in operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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