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Conferred November 14, 1996, by Colby President William R. Cotter.
John Seigenthaler, your passion for human equality, for the pursuit of truth and for the advancement of a vigorously free American press has brought you threats and kudos in almost equal measure. As a reporter and editor of the The Tennessean you were the bane of machine politicians, the mob, crooked labor bosses and the Ku Klux Klan. You encouraged young reporters to, in the words of Bill Kovach, "go as far and as fast and as hard as they could" to get a story. You have always been committed to increasing diversity in newsrooms and were among the first editors to hire African-American and women reporters.
During a hiatus from newspapering you worked for Robert Kennedy in the Justice Department. You were attacked in Montgomery as you tried to protect a group of Freedom Riders from a white mob, and your display of courage helped keep the Kennedy administation’s focus on civil rights from then on. Under your leadership, The Tennessean was the only white-owned newspaper in the South to cover the civil rights movement across the region, sending reporters to Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia. They—and you—changed the country.
You are founding editorial director of USA TODAY and the chair and founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, whose credo, "free press, free speech, free spirit," could be your own. You have won nearly every major award in journalism and served on the principal national boards and committees in the field. Colby is proud to add the Lovejoy Award to your list of honors, for you have throughout your career borne witness to the ideals for which we revere Elijah Parish Lovejoy.
By the authority of the Board of Trustees of Colby College, I confer upon you, John Seigenthaler, the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa. The hood with which you have been invested and this diploma which I place in your hand are visible symbols of your membership in this society of scholars, to all the rights and privileges of which I declare you entitled.