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Honorary Degree Recipient Urges Graduates to Practice “Informed Wonder”

2014 CCI Commencement photo courtesy GradImagesMore than 225 CCI graduating seniors along with their families and friends watched retired New York Times science writer and 2-time Pulitzer Prize winner John Noble Wilford (BS/JEM ’55) receive UT Knoxville’s sixth ever honorary doctorate during CCI’s 2014 Commencement ceremony on May 7 at Thompson-Boling Arena (see April story at UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek called Wilford “our eyes to some of history’s greatest events” when he conferred the honorary degree.

Wilford also delivered the commencement address during which he related one of his earliest memories of walking on a bluff above the Mississippi River with his grandfather in Hickman, KY.  He asked his grandfather, who was going blind, about the river, “Where did the brown currents come from? Where are the barges headed?” His grandfather’s answer was a lesson in geography that opened Wilford’s mind to a much broader world. He told the graduates that this was his first recollection of “informed wonder,” and that he hoped they would apply this concept to their work just as he has applied it to science journalism throughout his career.

Wilford Receives Honorary DegreeWilford further encouraged the graduates by advising them that  “Whatever careers you choose, you must first be well trained – informed. Being here today establishes that you have made that important start. Then, for maximum satisfaction, you should imagine how to take your work to a higher level of accomplishment and contribution to society. One must seize opportunities to practice informed wonder. Or as the incomparable Yogi Berra put it, ‘When you come to a fork in the road, take it.’”

He ended his speech by declaring, “I say thank goodness there are still mysteries.  Who would want to live in a world where all the mysteries are solved?”

Two Torchbearers, several student athletes, and many students with extraordinary academic achievements were among this year’s CCI graduating seniors along with fifty master’s students and five doctoral students. 

The entire ceremony is available for viewing on the UT webcast site at,