ASBURY PARK, N.J. – A Canadian student has made history after becoming Princeton's first black valedictorian in the university's 274 years, the Ivy League school said in a statement.
Nicholas Johnson, 22, was told in late April that he will be the first black student to give the university's closing farewell statement in a virtual commencement on May 31, according to school officials.
“Being Princeton’s first black valedictorian is very empowering, especially given its historical ties to the institution of slavery,” Johnson said to The New York Times.
Johnson felt the Ivy League university had "very much been a leader amongst its peer institutions" and "very critical and cognizant about its ties to slavery," the Times reported.
During the summer, Johnson plans to attend a Ph.D. program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he will complete his thesis developing algorithms to help health initiatives focusing on reducing obesity in his home county in Canada, according to the school’s statement.
In addition to studying operations research and financial engineering, Johnson is also pursuing certificates in statistics and machine learning, applied and computational mathematics, and applications of computing, school officials said.
Prior to his senior year, Johnson worked at Google's headquarters in California as a software engineer focusing on machine learning. He has also interned at Oxford University, where he studied machine learning as well.
The valedictorian and the Latin salutatorian are awarded by vote of the faculty to two of the highest-ranking members of the graduating class, according to the Princeton University website. The "special qualifications of a student as valedictorian or salutatorian are taken into account as well as scholastic standing," the website said.
About 9% of Princeton's 2019-2020 undergraduate population is black, according to the school's website.
“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.
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