"It feels empowering. Being Princeton's first black valedictorian has special significance for me, especially given Princeton's historical ties to the slavery institution," Johnson told CNN. "I hope this achievement motivates and inspires younger Black students, especially those interested in STEM fields."
The graduates' favorite memories of school were those used by "close friends and classmates who engaged in stimulating discussions – often late at night – about our faith, the cultures and environments we were raised in, the state of the world, and how we plan to contribute positively to it in our own unique way, "Johnson said in the school's news headlines.
He also said he appreciated the university for encouraging him to explore his interests by supporting him with international internships and cultural immersion trips to Peru, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.
Johnson's senior thesis focused on developing algorithms to design a community-based preventative health intervention to reduce obesity in Canada.
Johnson was a member of the Princeton chapter of Engineers Without Borders, and also worked as a software engineer in machine learning at Google's California headquarters during his time at Princeton.
Johnson also has a lot to look forward to. This summer, he practices as a hybrid quantitative researcher and software developer at D.E. Shaw Group, a global investment and technology development company.
In the fall, Johnson begins his doctorate. studies in operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Although the coronavirus pandemic canceled Princeton's graduation ceremony, the school still holds a virtual May 31st.
Johnson told CNN that it is "disappointing" not to be able to celebrate as a class together in person this year. However, he said he is grateful to the administration for its commitment "to host a personal startup for our spring 2021 class to celebrate our achievements."
"I've been comforted to see how well my friends and classmates have adapted to these challenging times," he said, "and have made sure that Princeton's strong community persists virtually despite being physically separated."