Caribbean pride soars on Mr Nicholas Johnson's achievements

Editorial

Caribbean pride soars on Mr Nicholas Johnson's achievements

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

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Amid all the gloomy COVID-19 stories over the past few months comes a most exhilarating report about young Mr Nicholas Johnson who has been named Princeton University's 2020 valedictorian.

The elements that have made this story so refreshing for us are that Mr Johnson is the New Jersey Ivy League school's first black valedictorian in its 274-year history; as well as the fact that he has Caribbean heritage — his father being Bahamian and his mother Jamaican.

Mr Johnson was no doubt very well raised by his parents and most likely applied, throughout his years in school, the tenets of hard work, discipline, and commitment that he learnt from them.

In fact, news reports in the United States have quoted Princeton's professor of operations research and financial engineering, Mr William Massey, who taught Mr Johnson, as saying that he quickly recognised Mr Johnson's brilliance.

“He was just very, very outstanding, very personable, with a wide range of interests,” Professor Massey said.

Naming Mr Johnson as valedictorian is really a big move by Princeton, as the university — whose first nine presidents were all slave owners and which had enslaved people living in its President's House until 1822 — has, in recent years, been struggling to deal with its antecedents.

We recall that last year, Princeton Theological Seminary pledged to spend US$27 million on scholarships and other initiatives to address its historical ties to slavery. The pledge was said to be the biggest effort of its kind.

That announcement came approximately one year after an internal report gave the findings of a two-year probe showing the university's past link to slavery.

We recall that a black student group at the university had described the steps outlined by Princeton as “a good start”, but argued that they were not enough, especially given that only about eight per cent of Princeton's 5,328 undergraduates are black.

Mr Johnson, on being informed of his achievement, correctly described it as significant.

“It's very empowering for me to have been selected for this honour; and it really does mean a lot to me, particularly given Princeton's ties to the institution of slavery,” the 22-year-old is quoted. “I hope that this can serve as inspiration to younger black students, particularly those in STEM fields.”

He noted that Princeton has been “very critical and cognisant about its ties to slavery” and said he felt that the Ivy League school, as a primarily white institution, had “very much been a leader amongst its peer institutions” as it has “taken very deliberate steps to reconcile things”.

Mr Johnson, we are told, is interested in applying his research to social problems. According to Professor Massey, the young man is keen on “channelling his skills to serve humanity”.

That noble characteristic, we believe, is hereditary and will serve him well through life, just as others in need of his skill and expertise will benefit.

We note the encouraging and celebratory message sent via Twitter to Mr Johnson by Princeton alumni, former United States First Lady Mrs Michelle Obama: “This Princeton alum is so proud of you, Nick! Congratulations on becoming valedictorian — and making history. I have a feeling this is just the beginning for you, and I cannot wait to see everything you continue to achieve.”

We share her pride and anticipation.


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