Two valedictorians lead class of 2001

Jennifer Greenstein

Princeton NJ -- The class of 2001 will make history by being the first group of Prince-ton seniors represented by two valedictorians at commencement June 5.


Christine McLeavey and Jared Kramer are the first seniors in University history to share valedictorian honors.


The students sharing the honor are Jared Kramer, an engineering student in the computer science department, and Christine McLeavey, a physics major and award-winning pianist. The reason for the departure from more than two centuries of tradition? An overabundance of talent.

The Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing, which makes the selection, could not find a way to limit itself to just one student for the honor this year. Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel explained, "The extraordinary academic achievements of these two students made it impossible to find any legitimate, defensible grounds for choosing one over the other."

One can understand the committee's dilemma after learning about the accomplishments of the two students.

Rising to challenges

For his senior project, Jared Kramer chose what his faculty adviser Bernard Chazelle described as a "hopelessly difficult" project, which involved understanding, implementing and thoroughly testing the most complex, technically difficult graph algorithm in existence. David Dobkin, the chair of the computer science department, who nominated Kramer for valedictorian, said he "is often ranked not only the best in the class but the best his professor has ever seen."

His academic record has been, needless to say, outstanding: He earned A+'s in courses in chemistry, operations research, computer science, economics, electrical engineering, math, molecular biology and physics. In fact, his only non-A grade at Princeton was in a course about the development of the U.S. Constitution. The intellectual challenge of that class was one of the factors in his decision to head to Harvard Law School in the fall.

"I really enjoy writing and thinking rigorously, and computer science contributed 90 percent of my education in rigorous thinking, but I felt I wanted to apply that in a different field," Kramer said.

Besides applying to law schools and graduate programs in computer science, Kramer also went on some job interviews and received several offers that were, he said, "kind of tempting. The job market for computer science is pretty good." He will be working in technology this summer; he starts an internship at Microsoft five days after graduation.

Kramer has received a number of awards at Princeton. He won the Freshman First Honor Prize and the Class of 1939 Princeton Scholar Award for his class, the President's Award for Academic Achievement for his freshman and sophomore years and the Class of 1883 English Prize for Freshmen in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. He also has been elected to the Tau Beta Pi National Engineering Society. He will graduate with a bachelor of science in engineering.

Kramer, who is from Atkinson, N.H., also has been involved in non-academic activities at Princeton. He participated in the Human Values Forum, an ethics discussion group for professors and students, and was a member of the Glee Club all four years, which was "a good way to do something organized and non-academic with a lot of people," he said. "I started meeting most of my friends there."

After law school, Kramer hopes to pursue a career as a law professor or a judge. "Law would be a good place to be an academic and yet be extremely engaged in what is happening at a particular time," he said. "That's true as a professor and in a judicial role, when you deal with day-to-day problems of governance, but from a scholarly perspective."

This will not be Kramer's first time as valedictorian: He did the honors for his class at Phillips Exeter Academy.

A duet of interests

This is the second time McLeavey has earned the title co-valedictorian. She also shared the honor in her high school class in South Kingstown, R.I. But instead of giving a speech, she played a violin solo for her fellow graduates and their families. This year McLeavey plans to be speaking, not playing.

Before she decided to pursue a degree in physics, McLeavey considered majoring in music, math or electrical engineering. Despite choosing to focus on science, McLeavey has remained devoted to music; she was a winner in the University Orchestra's concerto competition this year and gave a stunning performance of the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3 with the orchestra in March.

"She has succeeded brilliantly in just about every way a pianist can -- solo performance, chamber music performance, accompanying large ensembles -- and done wonderful work in every area," said Michael Pratt, conductor of the University Orchestra. "And she has been the musical citizen par excellence, giving generously of her time to other students in everything from chamber music concerts and chorus rehearsals to auditions." McLeavey enjoys sharing her music in many venues: She has played for brunches at Prospect House, at weddings and at church services.

Her science accomplishments are also impressive. For her senior thesis, she began developing a bedside tool to diagnose lung problems in children who are in intensive care. Her adviser, Professor Michael Littman, said McLeavey functions "like a mature investigator, much more like a senior graduate student than an undergraduate."

McLeavey has won the Kusaka Memorial Prize and the Manfred Pyka Memorial Prize in Physics as well as the President's Award for Academic Achievement. Last year she was awarded both the George Wood Legacy Sophomore Prize and a Barry Goldwater Scholarship.

Of her dual interests in science and music, McLeavey said, "I feel like I have two completely different personalities going on at the same time." This year she managed to keep up by devoting a month at a time to each subject -- one month consumed with piano, the next with work in the lab.

McLeavey plans to study piano privately next year in London or Washington, D.C., depending on the teacher with whom she decides to work. Spending several weeks in London last summer whet her appetite for living there. "I loved it there. You can get theater tickets for $4, as long as you're willing to stand in the back," she said. "And I just love British culture." Another enticement is that her dad is originally from Britain.

After a year of intensive piano, McLeavey will decide between further work at a conservatory or graduate work in medical technology or astrophysics. She is excited to be devoting all of next year to music, but she is sure that she will miss science and may take on some tutoring. "I think I'll always find a way to be a little bit involved in science," she said.


June 4, 2001
Vol. 90, No. 29
previous   archives   next


Two valedictorians lead class of 2001
Salutatorian is a classic example
Commencement ceremony set

In the news
Ostriker to leave provost's office for Cambridge
Special gift has deep campus roots
Scholars gather for Darwin conference
Book gives tips on public service careers

Biologist recognizes junior paper on brain anatomy as a natural for Nature
Slusky catches Cava's enthusiasm for research on super conductors

Broach to oversee genomics institute during national search
Goldston reappointed at PPL
Trainer continues as University librarian

By the numbers: Class of 2001
Calendar of events

The Bulletin is published weekly during the academic year, except during University breaks and exam weeks, by the Office of Communications, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544. Permission is given to adapt, reprint or excerpt material from the Bulletin for use in other media.

Deadline. In general, the copy deadline for each issue is the Friday 10 days in advance of the Monday cover date. The deadline for the Bulletin that covers June 18&endash;Sept. 9 is Friday, June 8. A complete publication schedule is available at deadlines or by calling (609) 258-3601.

Subscriptions. The Bulletin is distributed free to faculty, staff and students. Others may subscribe to the Bulletin for $24 for the academic year (half price for current Princeton parents and people over 65). Send a check to Office of Communications, Stanhope Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544.

Editor: Ruth Stevens
Calendar editor: Carolyn Geller
Contributing writers: Jennifer Greenstein, Pam Hersh, Marilyn Marks, Steven Schultz, Regina Tan
Photographer: Denise Applewhite
Design: Mahlon Lovett, Laurel Masten Cantor
Web edition: Mahlon Lovett