The First Black Valedictorian in the 274-Year History of Princeton University

Princeton University in New Jersey was the last of the Ivy League universities to admit Black students. It was not until World War II, when the federal government opened a Naval Training School at Princeton on October 5, 1942, that the color barrier was finally broken. Four Black students, John Leroy Howard, James Everett Ward, Arthur Jewell Wilson, Jr., and Melvin Murchison, Jr., entered the university, with the first three earning undergraduate degrees. The first African American to enter Princeton as an undergraduate during peacetime was Joseph Ralph Moss. A resident of Princeton, Moss entered the university in the autumn of 1947 and graduated on June 12, 1951.

This year, for the first time in the 274-year history of Princeton University, a Black person will be the valedictorian of the graduating class. Nicholas Johnson is a graduate of Selwyn House School in Westmount, Quebec. He has majored in operations research and financial engineering.

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 this fall.

“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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Comments (5)

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  1. Ewart Archer says:

    This story has been carried in numerous Canadian, Jamaican, Bahamian and U,S. newspapers.

    I do not begrudge any outstanding student a certain amount of recognition, but this is overkill. The family should be asked to tone it down. Too much self-promotion can be even more problematic than too little. Modesty and humility are more attractive than noisy, attention-seeking behavior. Pride comes before a fall.

  2. Dianne I. Smith says:

    What great news..how far our people have come and how far Princeton has come. I am a 77 year old African American who was born and reared in New Jersey.I knew of the town of Princeton and the University to be so very conservative in its recognition of Blacks as viable, equal citizens. The very best to this brilliant young man as he moves along his advanced academic life at MIT and as he lives for many years beyond that..

    • Ewart Archer says:

      By making such a fuss about this, you are making the point that we are not equal.

      Some may think that is a good thing. Actually, it’s not.

  3. Robert E. Millette says:

    Congratulations and very best regards to Mr. Nicholas Johnson and his parents on your most recent accomplishments.
    Dr. Robert E. Millette,
    Professor of Sociology at Lincoln University, PA,
    Former Ambassador of Grenada to the United Nations

  4. K.W. Bush says:

    What Wonderful News! Mr. Nicholas Johnson, you may justly be proud of your achievement.

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