A brilliant young man, Nicholas Johnson, has graduated as the first-ever black valedictorian of Princeton University in New Jersey, United States, breaking the school’s 250-year-old record.
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Nicholas Johnson graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in operations research and financial engineering from the prestigious Ivy League school emerged top of his graduating set and was named valedictorian.
He described his achievement as empowering noting that him being the record holder as the first-ever black valedictorian of the school holds special significance to him. “It feels empowering. Being Princeton’s first Black Valedictorian holds special significance to me particularly given Princeton’s historical ties to the institution of slavery,” Nicholas Johnson told CNN.
During his study at the University, Nicholas Johnson participated in internships at Google, Oxford University, and the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms. He also served as co-president of Engineers Without Borders.
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Speaking of his experience in school, Johnson explained that his favourite memories are those spent with his friends.
“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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A virtual commencement ceremony was organised for Johnson’s 2020 set due to several restrictions at the time. However, Princeton University organised a new physical commencement ceremony in 2022 where Nicholas Johnson spoke as the valedictorian of his graduating set.
In his speech, he emphasised the need for himself and his colleagues to become great leaders. He said: “We are the first graduating Princeton Class to have not one, but two commencement ceremonies – and it’s an immense privilege for me to be addressing you for the second time as your Valedictorian.”
“The world desperately needs leaders who dare to listen to and empathize with those whose views differ from their own. Leaders who will commit to the crusade that is the pursuit of knowledge. I believe that we – the Great Class of 2020 – are such leaders.”
“As we enter the world, my hope is that we all commit ourselves to the pursuit of knowledge. Not only is this something that we ought to do, but it is something that we absolutely must do to fully realize our ambition to create value in the world,” he added.
Nicholas Johson hopes his achievement will inspire young black students to work towards a great future. “I hope that this achievement motivates and inspires younger black students, particularly those interested in STEM fields,” he said.
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 (MIT).
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