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Genrietta Churbanova, John Freeman named valedictorian, salutatorian

Two close-up shots. On the left, a young white woman with blonde hair smiles at the camera. On the right, a young white man with brown hair smiles at the camera.
From left to right: Class of 2024 Valedictorian Genrietta Churbanova and Class of 2024 Salutatorian John Freeman.
Courtesy of Churbanova and Freeman.

The University named Genrietta Churbanova ’24 as this year’s valedictorian and John Freeman ’24 as the salutatorian on Monday, April 15. The Daily Princetonian interviewed Churbanova and Freeman on their experience at Princeton, independent work and interests, and post-graduation plans.

Genrietta Churbanova


Churbanova, a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society and a two-time recipient of the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence, is an anthropology major from Little Rock, Ark. who is also pursuing certificates in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, and Chinese language and culture. Her coursework and independent work tie together the “three main academic threads that I have at Princeton,” Churbanova told the ‘Prince.’

Churbanova is a heritage Russian speaker. Shortly after her birth in Arkansas, she moved to Moscow, Russia “until about six to seven years old,” she said. Churbanova took a gap year before starting at Princeton, during which she studied Mandarin in Beijing. She entered Princeton at the 300-level of Mandarin and has taken Mandarin every semester she has spent at Princeton, now at the 500-level.

Her senior thesis is titled “Taiwan’s Russians” and is an ethnographic study of the lives of Russian nationals residing in Taiwan. Churbanova conducted research for her thesis over the summer.

“I went to Taipei, Taiwan for about two months, and was interviewing both Russians who speak Russian and also Taiwanese people who study Russian,” she said. Churbanova described her summer research as her most meaningful academic experience during her time as a Princeton student. Her junior paper was an ethnographic approach to China-Russia border relations and was published in the Intercollegiate U.S.-China Journal.

Outside of her research and coursework, Churbanova is president of the student Society of Russian Language and Culture, a head fellow at the Princeton Writing Center, and a Mathey College peer academic adviser (PAA), according to the University press release.


“In my time at Princeton, I always really pursued what I loved,” she said. “So it felt like everything I did out of the classroom was really complementing what I did inside of the classroom.”

Churbanova is a former head opinion editor for the ‘Prince.’

After graduation, Churbanova will pursue a master’s degree in global affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing as a 2024 Schwarzman Scholar.

John Freeman

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Freeman, also a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, is a classics major from Chicago, Ill. receiving certificates in German and Hellenic studies. 

A student global ambassador for the University’s Study Abroad Program, he described his study abroad experiences as his most meaningful academic experience during college. 

Freeman studied the monuments and typography of Athens, Greece at College Year, located in Athens, during his junior spring semester. He traveled to Rome with the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies during his senior fall semester.

“Learning in a Princeton classroom is incredible and very rewarding, but it still doesn’t replace that kind of connection you can get with Greco-Roman history when actually being in Greece and Italy,” he said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’

He wrote two junior papers, one of which was motivated by his abroad experiences, about the repatriation of ancient art, which were published in undergraduate journals at Harvard University and the University of Oxford.

“To be actually able to go to the Acropolis Museum and see the way that the fragments were incorporated at the museum was really important to my junior paper,” he said.

Freeman’s senior thesis on the repatriation of Greco-Roman art is called “Complexities and Communities of Care: Greco-Roman Antiquities as Objects of Concern.” 

The salutatorian address at graduation is traditionally given in Latin. Freeman did not take Latin in high school, but during the month of May of his high school senior year, each student chose an independent project. “I decided to teach myself Latin,” Freeman said. Though Freeman took Latin 101 and 102 during his first year at Princeton, he partook in a language program at the City University of New York Latin and Greek Institute that allowed him to place out of Latin 105 and 108 and into upper-level Latin courses.

Outside of the classroom, Freeman is a Whitman College PAA, a member of the Cap and Gown Club, a tutor in English and Latin, and former co-vice president of Disiac Dance Company.

Post-graduation, he will join a summer associate program at Sperling & Slater law firm in Chicago. While his senior thesis approached ancient art from a theoretical perspective, Freeman said, “I’m excited to approach these objects through the legal framework, which is why I’m thinking of a career in art and cultural heritage law.”

Thomas Catalano is an assistant News editor for the ‘Prince.’

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