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Home > News > Natalia Orlovsky named Princeton valedictorian, Frances Mangina selected as salutatorian

Natalia Orlovsky named Princeton valedictorian, Frances Mangina selected as salutatorian

April 25th, 2022
Natalia Orlovsky and Frances Mangina

Natalia Orlovsky, a molecular biology concentrator from Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, has been selected as valedictorian of Princeton’s Class of 2022. Frances Mangina, a philosophy concentrator from Toronto, was named salutatorian. The Princeton faculty accepted the nominations of the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing at its April 25 meeting.

Commencement for the Class of 2022 will take place at Princeton Stadium on Tuesday, May 24. Orlovsky and Mangina are expected to give remarks at the ceremony.

Natalia Orlovsky

A true Renaissance woman, Princeton’s valedictorian has proved herself an extraordinary scholar and research scientist, and has also starred in stage plays and written stories and poetry, all while earning 10 A+’s in courses from six different departments, including English and psychology as well as molecular biology (her concentration) and quantitative and computational biology (her certificate program). At Princeton, A+ grades require written justifications from the professors. Over the course of her four years, Orlovsky earned no grade below an A. 

She was nominated for the role of valedictorian by Elizabeth Gavis, Princeton’s Damon B. Pfeiffer Professor in the Life Sciences and the director of undergraduate studies for molecular biology. Citing superlative endorsements from multiple professors, Gavis concluded, “Natalia has demonstrated all-out intellectual engagement in both coursework and independent research and a level of scholarship characteristic of a stellar graduate student, rarely seen in an undergraduate student.”

She is a two-time recipient of the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence and an early inductee to Phi Beta Kappa. In 2021, she was awarded a Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious national scholarships in natural sciences, engineering and mathematics. Orlovsky has served on the peer review board of the Princeton Undergraduate Research Journal and as an undergraduate course assistant for both Organic Chemistry and Introduction to Data Science. She has been involved with the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center in various capacities during her career at Princeton, including as a member of the Princeton Pride Alliance.

Since the spring of her first year at Princeton, Orlovsky has worked in the bioengineering lab of Cliff Brangwynne, Princeton’s June K. Wu ’92 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Her research with him culminated in her thesis work, which studies how two different proteins help determine the physical properties (or “squishiness”) of the cell nucleus, which in turn influences how easily cells can crawl through narrow passageways — for example, in cancer metastasis.

“I love the style of question-asking that science uses — getting to build a conceptual basis and then testing it with quantitative work and hands-on experimentation is really fun,” Orlovsky said. “I’ve really enjoyed thinking about the mechanics of the nucleus. I especially love how tactile my project is — a lot of it is, pretty literally, taking cells and squishing them. With the advent of things like atomic force microscopy, we have tools with which you can literally poke things that you can’t see with the naked eye!”

“My enthusiasm for Natalia could not be higher,” Brangwynne said. “Even as a freshman, she was operating like a new and very good Ph.D. student.” He said she has produced the most impressive senior thesis to come out of his lab, and that her data is potentially significant enough to be included in two publications, one of which would recognize her as first author, a rare achievement for an undergraduate.

This fall, Orlovsky will begin her doctoral studies in the biological and biomedical studies program at Harvard. She looks forward to a career in academic research and is especially excited by the prospect of being an educator and a mentor in the lab and in the classroom.

“As she goes on to make an impact in her next adventures,” Brangwynne said, “Natalia represents a shining example of the very best that a Princeton education has to offer to offer to the wider world.”

A strong interest in the arts complements Orlovsky’s dedication to science. Her poetry and short-form fiction have appeared in literary journals, and she has acted in many theater productions and served on the board of Theater Intime. “I’m interested in theater — and, for that matter, in creative writing — primarily because I like to devise and tell stories,” she said. “I think I’ve especially enjoyed my involvement in the theater community here because of how closely intertwined it is with the broader LGBTQ+ community on campus.”

Orlovky said that her modern and world drama classes, both taught by playwright Robert N. Sandberg of the Class of 1970, “profoundly changed the way I think about theater, and especially about the role of empathy in storytelling; they also made me a stronger communicator, a better theater-maker, and a happier, more hopeful person.”

Frances Mangina

In addition to her philosophy concentration, Mangina is pursuing a certificate in the language and culture of ancient Rome. The Princeton salutatorian address is traditionally given in Latin.

“There’s something fascinating about reading words that have endured for this long, and getting insight into the mysterious lives of these people,” she said. “There are so many layers of linguistic beauty and intellectual beauty and mystery and excitement.” 

In the fall, Mangina will pursue a master’s degree in ancient philosophy at Oxford University, funded by the highly competitive Ertegun Scholarship, before beginning a doctoral degree in philosophy at the University of Chicago. 

Her interest in classical studies was inspired by an immersive Latin study in the summer between high school and college, and it was confirmed by her experience in the humanities sequence during her first year at Princeton. 

“Studying the humanities at Princeton has brought joy to my life and shaped the way I see the world,” Mangina said. “My mental reading list also becomes longer by the day, which is exciting (if slightly daunting).”

In addition to excelling in Latin, Mangina reads and speaks French and German, and she has become a scholar of Greek. In May 2021, she won the Stinneke Exam Prize, given to the sophomore or junior who performs best on an exam based on the Odes of Horace; the Eclogues of Virgil; the Latin Grammar and Prosody; the Anabasis of Xenophon; Plato’s Euthyphro, Crito, Apology and Phaedo; and the Greek Grammar. 

Her senior thesis unites her love of classics, philosophy and literature in a study of Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, which she is undertaking with Daniel Heller-Roazen, Princeton’s Arthur W. Marks ’19 Professor of Comparative Literature. 

Mangina was awarded the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence after her first year at Princeton and was an early inductee to Phi Beta Kappa in fall 2021 — the same semester she traveled to Athens to study a Byzantine chapel. She is a member of First College, the Glee Club, the Chamber Choir and Early Princeton Music. She is also a Humanities mentor, a Writing Center Fellow and co-editor in chief of Tortoise: A Journal of Writing Pedagogy.

She said that her most vivid memory of her time at Princeton is of the “disorienting” days just before the end of on-campus instruction in March 2020, in the spring of her sophomore year. “Overall, the most important part of Princeton has been the friends I’ve made, and just how intense those friendships were was demonstrated by how we banded together as the pandemic was starting — how painful but beautiful it was.”

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