Princeton University has named the first Black valedictorian in the school’s 274-year history.
Nicholas Johnson, a Canadian-born operations research and financial engineering major will address the Class of 2020 in a virtual graduation for the Ivy League school’s students on May 31 due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a statement from Princeton.
An in-person graduation has been scheduled for May 2021.
“Being Princeton’s first Black Valedictorian holds special significance to me particularly given Princeton’s historical ties to the institution of slavery,” Johnson said to CNN. “I hope that this achievement motivates and inspires younger Black students, particularly those interested in STEM fields.”
In 2017, the school took efforts to address its historical connection to slavery with the Princeton and Slavery project. The initiative was designed to analyze how the unversity benefited from the human trafficking of enslaved people in its early years and the research focused on the antebellum period, considerably before Woodrow Wilson‘s legacy of white supremacy and racial injustice at Princeton, The New York Times reported.
His senior thesis reportedly placed focus on developing algorithms that would contribute to easing Canada’s obesity epidemic. He has also worked at Google as a software engineer in machine learning and this summer he will be an intern as a researcher and software developer at D.E. Shaw Group, an investment and technology firm. He begins his Ph.D. studies this fall in operations research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CNN reported.
Johnson also told CNN he wishes his graduation could be in person, but he’s glad there will be a ceremony for graduates next year.
“I have been comforted to see how well my friends and classmates have adapted to these challenging times,” he said, “and have ensured that Princeton’s strong community persists virtually despite our physical separation from one another.”