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Princeton University announces first black valedictorian in 274-year history


Lisa Festa/Princeton Center for Career Development

Nicholas Johnson is this year’s Princeton University valedictorian and he’s also making history at the same time. 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.

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 added that the achievement is especially significant “particularly because of Princeton’s past historical ties to the institution of slavery.” 

According to Princeton & Slavery Project, this includes nine previous Princeton University presidents having owned slaves at some point in their lives. “It is very empowering and I hope the achievement can serve as an inspiration and motivation for black students,” he said.

Johnson, a Montreal, Canada native, said that although he hasn’t finalized his speech for Princeton’s virtual commencement on May 31, he has a few ideas of what topics he’ll cover: reflecting on his academic experiences and graduating amidst the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. 

Although the 22-year-old has yet to decide on if he’ll stay in America long-term, he plans to intern as a hybrid quantitative researcher and software developer at the D. E. Shaw Group in New York over the summer. After that, he’ll begin his PhD studies in operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall.

Johnson is hopeful that his achievements will serve as a reminder to the next generation that “you have all of the abilities to achieve all that you hope to.” 

“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 added.

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