What a day, Wednesday, May 18 turned out to be for the Johnson family. Especially for the parents, Dr. Dexter Johnson and Dr. Anita Brown-Johnson, who had to navigate between two states, hours apart, to witness graduation ceremonies of their two children, Nicholas and Anastasia, who have attained milestones in their education journeys so far.
Two years ago, echoes of adulation and pride reverberated around the world when Nicholas carved his name in history becoming the first Black valedictorian at Princeton University, one of the most illustrious institutions of higher learning in the world.
Messages of praise were heaped on the young Montrealer, from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Michele Obama (herself a Princeton alumni), Oprah Winfrey, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Sonya Sotomayor (another Princeton alumni) and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, among others, all recognizing Johnson’s historic achievements and academic prowess.
However, because of Covid-19, Princeton’s 2020 Commencement ceremonies were held virtually, with Johnson delivering his valedictorian address on screen.
This year’s in-person celebrations offered an opportunity for him to speak directly to his fellow students, faculty and families about the challenge to fashion better futures that rest on the shoulders of those who see themselves as “builders.”
“ I think it’s even more important to appreciate how the pursuit of knowledge is intimately related to creating value. It is only through such pursuit that we, as builders, can develop a holistic appreciation for what most urgently needs to be changed in our world — and also refine our understanding of how certain innovations may adversely affect marginalized communities when not carried out thoughtfully. Leaders have a duty to think creatively about the pursuit of knowledge, and I believe that cultivating communities with diverse voices is key to this pursuit.”
Nicholas is currently a Ph.D. candidate in operation research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Later that day, he joined his parents in celebrating the graduation of his sister, Anastasia, who received her Master of Science degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, which is one of the oldest journalism schools in the world and the only journalism school in the Ivy League. It’s located in New York State.
Anastasia earned her place at Columbia by carving out a path of excellence in her academic work as well as her capacity to excel in all her endeavours, including as a highly talented musician, having performed at Carnegie Hall as a teenager and having also been short-listed for multiple Grammy nominations.
Following her graduation, she was offered a position as an intern with the Los Angeles Times.
Through it all, the parents, Dr. Johnson and Dr. Brown-Johnson, saw the hectic day of ceremonies and celebrations as an abundance of riches.
They are both high achievers themselves: he is a medical doctor and oral and maxillofacial surgeon and she was recently appointed Chief of Family Medicine at McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). They were accompanied to the ceremonies by another stalwart of education in our community, Mrs. Edelmera Harrison, a lifelong family friend and mentor to Nicholas and Anastasia, together with Dr. Lancelot Brown (uncle) and childhood nanny, Mrs. Esperanza Manaog.
Dr. Johnson and Dr. Brown-Johnson expressed their gratitude for the support that their family has received from the community along the way. “It takes a village,” she says. “To God be the glory,” he says.
NB: Nicholas Johnson’s Commencement address is available on YouTube