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Who wins prizes at Opening Exercises? We broke it down.

Nine individuals pose in formal attire in an old-looking building.  In the center, there is a bispectacled man in his 60s. Most of the rest of the individuals are students. There is also a woman in her 60s with glasses.
The award winners pose with University president Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and Dean of the College Jill Dolan. 
Photo Courtesy of Nicole Guglielmo

Every fall, the University welcomes the incoming first-year class with Opening Exercises, an interfaith service that also honors students with four academic prizes. The Daily Princetonian broke down recipients’ majors, high schools, and hometowns to analyze the shared traits of Princeton’s award winners.

The Freshman First Honor Prize, the George B. Wood Legacy Sophomore Prize, and the George B. Wood Legacy Junior Prize recognize academic achievement during students’ respective years. The Class of 1939 Scholar Prize is awarded to the student who has achieved the highest academic standing for all Princeton work by the end of junior year.


This year, Jenny Li ’26 and Daniel Yu ’26 were awarded the Freshman First Honor Prize. Dylan Epstein-Gross ’25 and Ella Harris ’25 received the sophomore equivalents, and Victoria Graf ’24 and Anurag Pratap ’24 received the junior equivalent. Brian Li ’24 won the Class of 1939 Scholar Prize.

Li’s award is particularly notable as he has been prominent not just in academics but in student life. He previously served as USG Chief Elections Manager (CEM) including during a contentious referendum in 2022. He also served as a member of Peer Reps, defending students accused of disciplinary violations.

Epstein-Gross is a contributing Puzzles constructor for the ‘Prince.’ His award is also notable, as he was previously a member of the Class of 2026, but jumped ahead a year due to advanced standing. 

An analysis of the past ten years of award winners show a number of trends, with academic awards leaning towards STEM students and international students. This is different from the student life awards conferred at the end of the year which have more students from the social sciences.


The most common state for prize winners was New Jersey (11), followed by California (7), and New York (6). 34 states have not produced a prize winner in the last ten years. Despite Texas being the seventh most-common state of origin for students in the class of 2026, no prize winners have hailed from Texas in the last ten years.

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Of the 1,500 students of the class of 2026, 60 percent attended public high schools, and 15 percent were international students. Public high school students are slightly underrepresented as about half of prize winners attended public high schools. 

Conversely, international students slightly overrepresented among prize winners, as 24 percent of prize winners attended high school outside of the United States.

STEM majors are overrepresented among prize winners. Computer Science (B.S.E.), the most common major among Princeton students, has the largest number of prize recipients with 10 winners. That concentration is followed by Mathematics, Operations Research and Financial Engineering, and Physics — all STEM majors. BSE students are also slightly over-represented, comprising 36.7 percent of winners but 26 percent of students in the class of 2022. 

Additionally, the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), one of the most popular concentrations on campus, has had zero concentrators take home an award at Opening Exercises over the last ten years. However, SPIA concentrators were overwhelmingly represented in senior class day awards last year.

Prize winners also tend to come from schools in wealthier areas; all but four attended high schools located in ZIP codes with median household incomes higher than the national median. The average of the median household incomes was $101,733, while the national median household income is $55,300.

In five of the last ten years — 2013, 2014, 2019, 2020, and 2022 — one of the recipients of the Class of 1939 Honor Prize has eventually become the valedictorian of their class. In another two years — 2016 and 2018 — winners of another prize from Opening Exercises went on to become valedictorian.

The 2023 prizes were awarded by Dean of the College Jill Dolan at Opening Exercises held on the Nassau Hall lawn on Sunday, September 3.

Miriam Waldvogel is an assistant News editor for the ‘Prince.’

Ryan Konarska is an associate Data editor for the ‘Prince’ and a staff News writer.