Conferred November 11, 1992
Elijah Parish Lovejoy is commemorated every November with a convocation at Colby College. This has been done for the past 40 years. He was a son of Colby — an early graduate who gave his life defending freedom of the press, pursuing emancipation of the slaves. It might be appropriate to begin the convocation by recalling some of Lovejoy’s own words. He was the valedictorian in his class in 1826 and this is what he said to his classmates on graduation day, “Let us pursue with unwavering aim the course we may determine to pursue. So that when called to give up our account of the talent committed to our care, may it not be found that we have buried it in the dust . . . Look at the slave drivers who go up and down our streets lifting their heads and moving among us unashamed, unrebuked as if they had not forfeited all claim to the name man. If the laws protect the miscreant who coins his wealth out of the heart’s blood of his fellow creatures, he can at least be crushed beneath the odium of public opinion.” [quoted from a newspaper statement by Lovejoy]
In an age of tabloid sensationalism and the sound-bite attention span, your career has cut against that grain, attacking corruption and exposing injustice with thoughtful, thorough and persistent journalism. Educated at Harvard, you abandoned the study of law for a chance to work at the New York Times. And in barely a year advanced from copy boy to reporter, eventually becoming a foreign correspondent. But wherever the assignment took you — to an urban back alley, a state capital corridor, or an Asian battlefield — you never wavered in your tough-minded quest for truth, undeterred by personal risk or political deference. When Pnom Pen fell in April 1975 it never occurred to you to leave. For two weeks you holed up in the French embassy, the only American journalist to bear witness to genocide. And when you were assured that all the Westerners who had sought refuge with you were also out of Cambodia, you filed an account of the tragedy. Your coverage won the Pulitzer Prize and led to the publication of The Killing Fields, your moving account of triumph in the face of terror. As metropolitan editor of the Times you helped to train a new generation of reporters and spurred coverage of local issues with the same depth and fervor the Times has always reserved for national and foreign affairs. Your own OpEd column became the talk of the town, for the way it championed urban underdogs, gored political oxen, and excoriated sacred cows. Then you moved to Newsday where you continued to air views, adopt causes, and share outrages that would otherwise receive scant attention in the mass media. You represent the finest tradition of Elijah Parish Lovejoy. And his college is pleased to have you as an honorary alumnus. By the authority of the Board of Trustees of Colby College, I confer upon you, Sidney Schanberg, the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.