Valedictorian Nicholas Johnson of Montreal, Quebec. (Courtesy – Princeton University)
Valedictorian Nicholas Johnson of Montreal, Quebec. (Courtesy – Princeton University)

Princeton University has announced its first black valedictorian in the Ivy League school’s history.  

Nicholas Johnson of Montreal, a financial engineering student, said he “appreciates the encouragement and support that Princeton has given” in developing his academic interests, and cherishes the relationships he’s created with his classmates most, he said.

Along with his concentration in operations research and financial engineering, Johnson is also pursuing several certificates in applied and computational mathematics, statistics and machine learning, and applications of computing.

Johnson has also conducted research on sequential decision making, which Princeton’s website describes as “the management of complex systems through the control of physical, financial and informational resources.”  

Some of Johnson’s research includes an independent research project titled “Generating Privacy Preserving Synthetic Datasets,” that was conducted in his junior year and an ongoing project in which he is developing a reinforcement learning agent to execute large financial trade orders with minimal market distortion.  

In addition to Johnson’s academic achievement he is also an active member of several social groups. Johnson is an editor of Tortoise: A Journal of Writing Pedagogy. He is also a member of Whitman College, one of the six residential colleges that advises and houses students at Princeton, and served as a residential college adviser there, according to the Princeton University website.  

Additionally, he is a member of the Princeton Chapter of Engineers Without Borders and served as its co-president in 2018.  

“Confirmed: one of my best friends, Nick Johnson is the first black Valedictorian in Princeton’s 274 year history. Beyond proud!” tweeted @Menelik_Graham.

“First Black valedictorian at Princeton AND he’s Canadian! This just made my day! Congratulations Nicholas!” @Ms_St_Aubyn tweeted about Johnson becoming the valedictorian.

After graduating, Johnson plans to intern at D.E. Shaw Group this summer as a hybrid quantitative researcher. After the summer he plans to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology to continue his Ph.D. studies in operations research.

But friendships, Johnson said, will be his favorite memories at Princeton.  

“Some of my favorite memories of my time at Princeton are memories of spending time with friends and classmates engaging in stimulating discussions. We would often talk about our beliefs, the cultures and environment that we grew up in, and how we plan on contributing positively to the world in our own  ways,” Johnson said, according to a statement released by Princeton University.

In addition to Princeton, the scholar also attended Marianopolis College and is a graduate of the Selwyn House School in Westmount, Quebec.

In addition to Johnson becoming the valedictorian, Grace Sommers a physics major is the 2020 salutatorian for Princeton.  

Salutatorian Grace Sommer of New Jersey. (Courtesy – Princeton University)

Sommers will be continuing her studies at Princeton in the fall entering the Ph.D. program. Sommers is also seeking certificates in applications of computing, applied and computational mathematics, and Ancient Rome language and culture.  

Along with her academic achievements Sommers is also a member of Butler College and received the Freshman First Honor Prize and the George B. Wood Legacy Sophomore Prize.  

Sommer is also a participant in Undergraduate Women in Physics and the Princeton Society of Physics Students.

“Congratulations again to Phi Beta Kappa members @NickAGJohnson and Grace Sommers on being named @Princeton’s 2020 valedictorian and salutatorian!” tweeted @PhiBetaKappa about Sommers and Johnson.

Although students will not have an in-person graduation this year, the university will hold a virtual commencement and an in-person ceremony will take place next year.