2020 Farewell Remarks by Nicholas Johnson

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2020 Nicholas Johnson’s farewell speech for Virtual launch ceremony Sunday May 31

I am truly touched by this honor and privilege to address you, the Princeton High Class of 2020 on this very important day in our lives. I find it hard to imagine that four years have passed since we first walked through FitzRandolph Gate together. We have learned so much since then through classes, research, community involvement, international experiences and friendships. Most importantly, we have learned that we have far more to learn. As an operations research hub, I can’t help but think about the likelihood of me speaking to our class today, virtually, from my home in Montreal. To Princeton, our mentors and loved ones, thank you for inspiring us to believe in the unlikely.

During the freshman summer, I traveled to Peru with the Engineers Without Borders Peru team from Princeton to build a water system in Pusunchas, a community of about 100 families with no access to a reliable source of drinking water. We spent the summer building – literally. We dug trenches, laid PVC pipes and built various concrete structures, in collaboration with community partners. I will never forget the feelings of pride, happiness and astonishment we shared when, at the end of the summer, the water flowed tens of kilometers from the source of capture, located in the highlands. mountains, to the first fire hydrant we had built in a hillside house. What made this experience so memorable for me was the opportunity to help build something tangible, using the skills developed in our new home away from home, and witnessing the impact. deep on the quality of life of the community. It reminded me of the feeling of wonder, anticipation and exhilaration I had felt when I was first challenged to solve a Rubik’s cube. At that time, I embraced construction as a vector of progress and a bridge to a better future.

I believe “building” is the best way to create and deliver value to the world. Construction is not limited to the creation of tangible objects. Together, we have built communities, relationships, traditions, innovative algorithms and lasting memories. Building is fundamentally a way to serve humanity. When I reflect on our collective achievements, I am convinced that each of us has the capacity to build and create. After all, we each passed our graduation thesis!

Identifying what needs to be built is inherently more difficult – and arguably more important – than specifying how something is built. It is the first step that one takes to create the future and requires an intimate familiarity and engagement with the current state of the world coupled with an ability to unabashedly dream of a markedly different future. In the words of Michelle Obama of Class of 1985, “It was possible, I knew, to live on two planes at the same time – to have your feet planted in reality but pointed in the direction of progress. […] You can live in the world as it is, but you can still work to create the world as it should be. I challenge each of us to develop our own unique answer to the question “what should we build?” And revise our answers as we continue to learn. Think critically about what needs to be built in the world, build it, and never stop learning.

Today marks a new beginning, with a truly unprecedented challenge. COVID-19 has claimed too many lives, disrupted daily life and forced us to reassess our structures and functions within society. My heart pains for all those who have lost loved ones to this pandemic. This new disease will not go away quickly and it will likely give rise to a “new” normal. Let us live up to the opportunity to make transformative progress in finding solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. Let us fight with passion to ensure that this stressful time of sacrifice will be remembered as a time in history when diversity of thought, creativity, compassion and bravery overcame fear of a common threat to humanity. With perseverance, we will overcome. More than ever, let’s build a better normal. In the meantime, look forward to the promise of Act 2 in person next spring! Congratulations promotion 2020!



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