Nicholas Johnson Becomes Princeton’s 1st Black Valedictorian

Nicholas Johnson Becomes Princeton’s 1st Black Valedictorian

Montreal native Nicholas Johnson makes history by becoming Princeton University’s first black valedictorian in their 274 years of existence. Nicholas Johnson will be participating in the university’s virtual commencement for the Class of 2020, which will be held on Sunday, May 31.

Before attending Princeton, the 21-year-old Canadian attended Selwyn House School, a private school for boys, in Westmount, Quebec. After graduating, Nichols Johnson furthered his education by attending Marianopolis College, which was less than two miles from his prior institution. By his junior year, Johnson decided to continue his education at Princeton University, a world-renowned Ivy League college. There, Johnson has concentrated on operations research and financial engineering.

Since coming to Princeton University, Johnson has conducted several research projects, both on his own and with Princeton professors. One, in particular, includes work surrounding the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The graduating senior spoke highly of his professors’ influences on his studies, most notably William Massey, the Edwin S. Wilsey Professor of Operations Research and Financial Engineering.

“Professor Massey inspired me by sharing his ever-present love for operations research and through his advocacy for black and African American students in STEM fields,” Johnson said. “He encouraged me to pursue increasingly ambitious research projects and to share my work at academic conferences.

Another mentioned professor, Dannelle Gutarra Cordero, a lecturer in the African American studies department.

“Professor Gutarra introduced me to academic writing during my first-year Writing Seminar. She was instrumental in helping me develop my skills as an effective academic writer and communicator, and she motivated me to become a writing fellow.”

Outside of serving as a writing fellow at Princeton writing center, Johnson is also an editor of Tortoise: A Journal of Writing Pedagogy, a member of Whitman College, member of the Princeton chapter of Engineers Without Borders, and has worked with Google’s California headquarter as a software engineer in machine learning.

In a featured story on Princeton’s news site, Johnson reflected on his favorite memory since arriving at Princeton.

“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.”

For the upcoming summer, Johnson will be interning with D. E. Shaw Group before the transition to his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in fall 2020. He will serve as a quantitative researcher and a software developer.

How do you feel about Princeton University choosing their first black valedictorian in 2020? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.


Authored by: Cierra Jones