Throughout his career, Edward O. Wilson has discovered more than 450 ant species and is now regarded as the founder of sociobiology.
Today, UT awarded him the Honorary Doctor of Science and Letters degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from the College of Arts and Sciences during the fall commencement ceremony. This is the eighth honorary degree the university has granted.
Past recipients have included entertainment legend and philanthropist Dolly Parton, the late Senator Howard H. Baker Jr., and Mary Costa, an opera singer best known for providing the voice of Princess Aurora in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
Wilson, the keynote speaker for today’s undergraduate commencement ceremony, urged the newly minted alumni to use the skills and training they’ve acquired at UT to tackle the problems and crises of the 21st century.
“The rest of the world needs you,” he said. “We need as many determined and increasingly educated citizens as we can get.”
The 21 century is the fastest-changing period in history and UT graduates will help guide it through its myriad of technological and scientific advances, Wilson said.
He exhorted graduates to continue to study and learn on their own, whether in graduate school or as they enter the professional world, and to make lasting contributions to society.
“This university is one of the best in America and it has given you the means to be flexible and look ahead,” he said. “It means you’re going to be living a fulfilling life.”
Wilson, considered the world’s leading authority on ants, is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and the only living person to have won it twice for a nonfiction work. He has been called “the new Darwin,” and Time magazine once declared him one of America’s twenty-five most influential people. He was a pioneer in the field of biodiversity studies and edited a key book on the subject for the National Academy of Sciences.
Wilson studied at UT for a short time in the 1950s and went on to Harvard to earn his doctorate in 1955. He began teaching at Harvard the following year and spent the next forty years on the faculty. There, he mentored then-graduate student Dan Simberloff, who is now UT’s Hunger-Gore Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and one of the world’s leading authorities on invasive species. Wilson and Simberloff are both members of the National Academy of Sciences; Wilson was elected in 1969, and Simberloff was elected in 2012.
He has authored more than twenty books and received more than seventy awards for his contributions to science and humanity, including the US National Medal of Science, Japan’s International Prize for Biology, the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal International Prize for Science, and the Franklin Medal of the American Philosophical Society.
Wilson is also the recipient of twenty-seven honorary doctoral degrees from North America and Europe.
Now retired, he and his wife, Irene, live in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Lola Alapo (865-974-3993, firstname.lastname@example.org)