(WBIR) A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist became the six person ever to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Tennessee.
Wednesday afternoon, UT alumnus John Noble Wilford joined the exclusive group, consisting of John Seigenthaler, Howard H. Baker Jr., Dolly Parton, Al Gore, and Charles O. "Chad" Holliday. UT gave him the prestigious honor during the College of Communication and Information graduation ceremony. Wilford said he was surprised the university selected him.
"It never occurred to me that I would be honored this way," Wilford said. "Especially honorary to be an aluminist and get this award."
Wilford said he not only studied journalism while attending UT but also took many courses in the sciences. With that knowledge, Wilford helped forged a national platform for science journalism. But it was in Knoxville, Tenn. where he planted the roots for his prolific writing career.
"I worked for Tennessee newspapers during college summers. And I got a job at the Wall Street Journal out of college, and then went to Time magazine. That's where I began writing about science and space," said Wilford. "And then the New York Times discovered me. They got interested in picking someone to cover the Apollo moon landing program, and they picked me."
While working at the New York Times, Wilford's biggest story, "Men Walk on the Moon," earned him the entire front page on July 21, 1969. He went on to become an assistant national editor and then director of science news at the New York Times where he helped launch its popular weekly Science Times section. When he returned to writing, the 1955 UT graduate won two Pulitzer Prizes for national reporting in 1984 and 1987.
He retired from the New York Times in 2008. During his career, Wilford authored, edited, or co-wrote 10 books, including We Reach the Moon, The Mapmakers, The Riddle of the Dinosaur, Mars Beckons, and The Mysterious History of Columbus.
Even with more than 50 years in journalism under his belt, Wilford said he's still learning new things. One of the main focal points of his graduation speech was to encourage future journalists to never stop expanding their knowledge.
"They're just starting the process of learning what they want to do. It's up to them to see that they keep learning. This is just a start," Wilford said. "One of the things I've found that journalism - particularly - is a license and duty to learn for the rest of your life."