Caribbean-Canadian Becomes Princeton University’s First Black Valedictorian

Princeton University, a private Ivy League research university in Princeton, New Jersey, has named a Caribbean-Canadian – Nicholas Johnson, the son of a Bahamian father and a Jamaican mother, as the first Black valedictorian in the university’s 274-year history.

The university – the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution – said Johnson, an operations research and financial engineering concentrator from Montreal, Canada has been named valedictorian of the Class of 2020.

Princeton said its faculty accepted Johnson’s nomination by the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing at its April 27 meeting.

Princeton will hold a virtual commencement for the Class of 2020 on Sunday, May 31, at which Johnson will participate. An in-person ceremony will be held in May 2021.

In a statement, Johnson said that he appreciates the encouragement he has received at Princeton in developing his academic interests.

He said the university’s support, through opportunities including international internships and cultural immersion trips to Peru, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom, was “especially significant.”

But, most of all, Johnson said he treasured his relationships with his classmates.

“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 unique way.”

He said he plans to spend this summer interning as a hybrid quantitative researcher and software developer at the D. E. Shaw Group before beginning Ph.D. studies in operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in fall 2020.

Along with his concentration in operations research and financial engineering, Johnson said he is pursuing certificates in statistics and machine learning, applied and computational mathematics, and applications of computing.

Princeton said Johnson’s research has focused primarily on sequential decision-making under uncertainty, optimization, and the ethical considerations that must be made given the increasing role of algorithmic decision-making systems.

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