Canisius Honors Program Proves Life-Changing for Pulitzer Prize-Winning Political Cartoonist

By Kristin E. Etu, Associate Director of College Communication, Canisius College

Adam Zyglis (Photo by Canisius College)

Adam Zyglis (Photo by Canisius College)

Adam Zyglis ’04 carefully ponders current events before he picks the topics for his political cartoons in The Buffalo News. That’s because readers count on the Pulitzer Prize winner’s creative visual commentary on topics ranging from President Donald Trump’s controversial new policies to the often lackluster performance of the Buffalo Bills football team.

“When I was as a student at Canisius College, I never thought that I would draw political cartoons for a living,” says Zyglis. “I planned to pursue a more traditional job as a computer programmer. Cartooning would be a hobby.”

Today, Zyglis’ cartoons are nationally syndicated through Cagle Cartoons and appear in such papers as The Washington Post, USA Today, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. In 2015, he received a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. 

Zyglis says the Canisius All-College Honors Program changed the trajectory of his career. The late Tom Joyce, who taught English, recognized his talent and encouraged Zyglis to hone his skills by drawing political cartoons for the school newspaper, The Griffin.

As a result of his outstanding work, Zyglis was honored with a first-place national award from the Associated Collegiate Press and the Universal Press Syndicate.

“The mentorship and encouragement of my Honors professors inspired me to explore my artistic abilities,” says the summa cum laude computer science graduate who minored in mathematics and fine arts. “The rigorous academic program and the opportunity to collaborate with other motivated students also helped me to grow exponentially.”

With 250 students currently enrolled, the Canisius All-College Honors Program continues to expand. Enrichment programs encourage deeper thought and the newly-formed Honors Student Association enables students to create their own Honors-based programming.  

Zyglis believes such experiences helped to shape him as a person.

“The Jesuit ideals of cura personalis or 'care for the individual,' and Magis or 'more,' are clearly exemplified in the All-College Honors Program,” says Robert J. Butler, Ph.D., professor of English and the first full-time director of the program. “Honors-related activities, such as guest speakers or trips, directly connect to the curriculum but also bring students and faculty together as a learning community.”

As with all Honors students, Zyglis’ experience culminated with an Honors thesis, a semester-long intensive research project.

“For my thesis, I had the opportunity to interview my favorite political cartoonists, including Steve Sack, Clay Bennett and Mike Ritter, and learn in-depth about their processes,” says Zyglis. “In doing that, the idea began to solidify for me that this was something I wanted to do after graduation.”

At the end of the semester, students present their theses in front of professors, students and members of the College community during Honors Thesis Defense Week. Zyglis argued successfully that editorial cartooning is primarily an art form.

“The purpose of the thesis is to provide evidence that our students know how to write, think and research,” says Bruce J. Dierenfield, Ph.D., current director of the Honors program. “But the bottom line is that we expect them to present themselves in a confident, public way and produce evidence to support their arguments.”

Honors science students have presented topics including “Trying to Neutralize Carbon Monoxide in the Atmosphere” and “Zoo Management.” One Honors English student wrote a 400-page novel. But a thesis does not have to relate to a student’s major. Dierenfield notes that a biology major and English minor recently compared the music of John Lennon and Jim Morrison and how their songs were used by the anti-war movement.

“The biggest question is, ‘Did the student generate new knowledge,’” says Dierenfield, who reads all Honors theses. And he is impressed by what he sees.

Zyglis is no exception. He earned an “A” for his thesis.

“The skills and information our students acquire during the thesis process are transferrable into whatever area of life they go into, and Adam Zyglis is living proof of that, ” adds Dierenfield.

Zyglis believed his thesis so strongly illustrated his knowledge about political cartooning, that he took it to his job interview for an internship with The Buffalo News. That, along with his clear talent for art, set Zyglis apart. He later landed a full-time job with the paper.

“Because of the All-College Honors Program, I have my current job and I have a Pulitzer Prize,” says Zyglis. “My Jesuit education taught me to think critically and to find my voice as an artist, and for that I am grateful.”

'Nation of Immigrants' Cartoon courtesy of Adam Zyglis for The Buffalo News

'Nation of Immigrants' Cartoon courtesy of Adam Zyglis for The Buffalo News

To view more of Adam Zyglis' cartoons for The Buffalo News, please click here.