Canadian student named first black valedictorian in Princeton University's history

Princeton University names Nicholas Johnson its first black valedictorian

Princeton University names Nicholas Johnson its first black valedictorian

Johnson told ABC News that he was "really surprised" to learn about the achievement, which he first discovered while being interviewed for a podcast for the university based in Princeton, New Jersey.

He is officially the private Ivy League's research university's first black valedictorian in their 274-year-old history, Princeton University announced on their website. "Being Princeton's first Black Valedictorian holds special significance to me particularly given Princeton's historical ties to the institution of slavery", he said.

Johnson, an operations research and financial engineering concentrator from Montreal, has had worldwide internships in Peru, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom while at Princeton.

The achiever said that though it is very dampening not being able to celebrate as a class together in person this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, he is very grateful for all that the school's administration has done.

He wrote his senior thesis on developing algorithms to design a community-based preventive health intervention to decrease obesity in Canada.

As part of his acceptance speech, he said he was very honoured and humbled for the opportunity to take the institution to a greater height. The school plans on having an in-person ceremony for the Class of 2020 next spring, in May 2021. That research has applications for public health bodies when trying to implement social-distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic, the press release states.

At Princeton, 419 of the 5,328 undergrads are black, or 7.9% of all undergraduates.

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

Johnson said he's grateful for the encouragement he received at Princeton, and specifically praised two teachers who positively impacted his experience.

Johnson also has a lot to look forward to.

"He's somebody interested in channelling his skills to serve humanity", Massey said.

Last year, the former pupal worked at Google's headquarters in California as a software engineer.

After the virtual graduation which is slated for Sunday, May 31, 2020, Johnson will spend this summer interning as a hybrid quantitative researcher and software developer at the D. E. Shaw Group before heading to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his Ph.D. studies in operations research.

The relationships he built with his fellow students also stood out for him. He told the publication that he's had many discussions with peers about the school's history and how to create a better college environment where Black students can thrive.

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