Student Makes History as Princeton University’s First Ever Black Valedictorian in 274 Years

Nicholas Johnson, first Black Valedictorian at Princeton University

In April 2020, Nicholas Johnson, who belongs to the 2020 class of Princeton University, made history after he became the first African American student to ever be named valedictorian in the school's history. According to the University's School of Engineering and Applied Science, he is also the first valedictorian in the department’s 21-year history.
Johnson was a dedicated student that majored in operations research and financial engineering. He served as a writing fellow at Princeton’s Writing Center, a residential college adviser for Whitman College, and even worked as a software engineer at Google’s California headquarters during his senior year. Also his academic interests gave him the opportunity to take cultural immersion trips to Peru, Hong Kong, and the UK.

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.

“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.

He also announced that he plans to earn a Ph.D. at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), where he plans to pursue certificates in statistics and machine learning, applied and computational mathematics, and applications of computing.