Princeton names its first Black valedictorian in Ivy League’s history

After 274 years, Nicholas Johnson makes history as the first person of his race to graduate as the top student from the prestigious institution

Nicholas Johnson
Nicholas Johnson is the first African American to graduate valedictorian in Princeton University’s History

Nicholas Johnson has made history at the prestigious Princeton University becoming the university’s first Black valedictorian.

Johnson is an operations research and financial engineering major from Montreal, Canada. In a statement from the university, he states that he appreciates the encouragement he has received at Princeton in developing his academic interests.

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During his time at the university, Johnson participated in international internships and cultural immersion trips to Peru, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom. Last summer, he interned at Google’s headquarters in California as a software engineer in machine learning.

Following his graduation, Johnson 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.

Princeton University

Nassau Hall on Princeton University’s campus (

According to the statement, Johnson also pursued certificates in statistics and machine learning, applied and computational mathematics, and applications of computing.

His senior thesis, “Sequential Stochastic Network Structure Optimization with Applications to Addressing Canada’s Obesity Epidemic,” focuses on developing high-performance, efficient algorithms to solve a network-based optimization problem that models a community-based preventative health intervention designed to curb the prevalence of obesity in Canada.

Johnson says that his time spent with his fellow colleagues was central to his success, “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.”

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Princeton University is a private Ivy League research university in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded in 1746 as the College of New Jersey, Princeton is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine colonial colleges chartered before the American Revolution.

Princeton is also the alma mater of former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama.