By AFRO Staff

It took upwards of two-and-a-half centuries, finally, however, Princeton University has named the first Black valedictorian in its storied history.

Nicholas Johnson, a Canadian student majoring in operations research and financial engineering, has been named valedictorian of Princeton’s Class of 2020, the university announced in a news release. A virtual commencement for the Class of 2020 will be held on Sunday, May 31, 2020, and in an in-person ceremony about one year later.

Nicholas Johnson (Photo by Lisa Festa, Center for Career Development/Princeton)

“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 via Facebook message. “I hope that this achievement motivates and inspires younger black students, particularly those interested in STEM fields.”

Johnson said he appreciated he mentorship and academic and cultural opportunities he gleaned from his time at Princeton, including international internships and trips to Europe, South America and Asia. However, what he valued most was the human connections he made.

“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,” Johnson said.

In addition to his rigorous academic workload, Johnson worked as a software engineer in machine learning at Google’s California headquarters and previously interned at Oxford University’s Integrative Computational Biology and Machine Learning Group. He was a writing fellow at Princeton’s Writing Center, and served as editor of “Tortoise: A Journal of Writing Pedagogy.” He is also a member of the Princeton chapter of Engineers Without Borders and served as its co-president in 2018.

Upon graduation, Johnson plans to participate in a summer internship as a hybrid quantitative researcher and software developer at the D. E. Shaw Group before beginning doctoral studies in operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in fall 2020.