Nicholas Johnson Becomes First Black Valedictorian In Princeton History

by Raheem Karim
Nicholas Johnson
Nicholas Johnson

Photo by Lisa Festa, Center for Career Development

After 274 Years, Princeton Nicholas Johnson Will Be Its First Black Valedictorian

In Princeton University 274 years of existence Nicholas Johnson became the first black valedictorian in school history announced in a statement.

Johnson is from Montreal, Canada with a concentration in operations research and financial engineering, said he was stunned when he learned last week that he was the university’s first black valedictorian.

“Being Princeton’s first black valedictorian is very empowering, especially given its historical ties to the institution of slavery,” Johnson said to The New York Times.

The University has had troubled past, neither acknowledged nor investigated its historical ties to slavery. The first 9 Presidents were slave owners, as the school profited from and grew out of slave labor.

Johnson felt the Ivy League university had “very much been a leader amongst its peer institutions” and “very critical and cognizant about its ties to slavery,” the Times reported.

In the Princeton communications press release, Johnson stated, “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 wrote his senior thesis on developing algorithms to design a community-based preventive health intervention to decrease obesity in Canada. The research also included applications to help impose strict social distancing to stop the spread of the coronavirus.


William A. Massey, a professor of operations research and financial engineering at Princeton who taught Mr. Johnson, spoke highly of him.

“He was just very, very outstanding, very personable, with a wide range of interests,” Professor Massey said, adding that Mr. Johnson was a regular at conferences favored by graduate students and faculty, and was selected for a presentation among a field of mostly graduate students.”

Due to the COVID-19 virus Princeton’s in-person graduation ceremony has been canceled. Instead they will hold a virtual commencement for the Class of 2020 on Sunday, May 31, 2020. Nicolas Johnson stated he will be participating.

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