Posted on May 11, 2020

After 274 Years, Princeton Will Have Its First Black Valedictorian

Corey Kilgannon, New York Times, May 11, 2020

Princeton University has announced its first black valedictorian in its 274-year history.

Nicholas Johnson, who was named valedictorian of Princeton’s Class of 2020, called the achievement especially significant, given the school’s struggle in recent years, like numerous other prestigious universities, to confront its troubled history with slavery.

He said he was stunned when he learned last week that he was the university’s first black valedictorian.

“Being Princeton’s first black valedictorian is very empowering, especially given its historical ties to the institution of slavery,” Mr. Johnson, 22, said.

He added that he felt the university, as a primarily white institution, had “very much been a leader amongst its peer institutions” and “very critical and cognizant about its ties to slavery.”

“They’ve taken very deliberate steps to reconcile things,” he said.

With Princeton’s in-person graduation ceremony canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, it will hold a virtual one on May 31. The school plans on having an in-person ceremony for the Class of 2020 next spring, in May 2021.

Mr. Johnson, who is from Montreal, majored in operations research and financial engineering.


At Princeton, 419 of the 5,328 undergrads are black, or 7.9 percent of all undergraduates.