In The Know

Nicholas Johnson, Princeton’s first black valedictorian, receives congratulations from alum Michelle Obama

Former first lady Michelle Obama showered praise on 22-year-old Nicholas Johnson this week after it was revealed that he had been named the first black valedictorian at Princeton University, her alma mater.

“This Princeton alum is so proud of you, Nick!” said Obama, who obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the university in 1985 before going on to earn a juris doctor degree at Harvard Law School years later.

“Congratulations on becoming valedictorian—and making history,” Obama, who was the first black woman to be first lady of the United States, continued. “I have a feeling this is just the beginning for you, and I cannot wait to see everything you continue to achieve.”


Johnson is from Montreal and majored in operations research and financial engineering at Princeton. He is the first black student in the history of the school, which was founded in 1746 and is among the oldest in the nation, to be named valedictorian.

In an interview discussing the historic feat with The New York Times, Johnson said that “being Princeton’s first black valedictorian is very empowering, especially given its historical ties to the institution of slavery.”

“I hope this achievement serves as inspiration to black students coming up behind me,” he added.

According to an announcement released by the school detailing his academic career, Johnson has plans to intern as a hybrid quantitative researcher and software developer during the summer and is expected to pick up Ph.D. studies in operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology later this year.

Though schools in New Jersey remain closed during the coronavirus pandemic, the school said Johnson will still be participating in a virtual commencement that will be hosted for the university’s graduating class later this month.

Johnson said in a tweet last week that he is “looking forward to sharing my speech as Princeton’s 2020 Valedictorian on May 31st.”

In The Know