The winners of this year’s Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals in architecture, law and citizen leadership each spoke Thursday and Friday, sharing how their leadership has changed landscape architecture, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and public education.
The highest honors bestowed by the University of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation – the independent, nonprofit organization that owns and operates Monticello – the medals were awarded during the annual Founder's Day festivities on Friday.
This year's recipients were:
- Laurie Olin, a distinguished professor, author and renowned landscape architect whose designs include the Washington Monument grounds in Washington, D.C. and Bryant Park in New York City.
- FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, who has led the bureau’s post-9/11 transformation.
- Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach For America, which has inspired more than 38,000 top recent college graduates and young professionals to join the movement to ensure educational opportunity for all.
The medals, struck for the occasion, were presented Friday by U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan and Leslie Greene Bowman, president and CEO of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, at a luncheon in Garrett Hall, part of the celebration of Founder’s Day – the 270th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth. The recipients also were honored Thursday at a dinner at Monticello.
Laurie Olin: Public Spaces Use ‘Poetry of the Ordinary’ to Engage Civic Purpose
Open space has been central to the evolution of urban communities, landscape architect Olin said Friday in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium. Throughout history, although the vast majority of public space has been devoted to movement, circulation and access, he said, open spaces devoted to public encounter, gathering, recreation and leisure, such as parks and plazas, remain among the most cherished and contested.
Olin’s own signature projects include the Washington Monument grounds in D.C., Bryant Park in New York City and U.Va.’s Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds.
In the talk, Olin expressed his great love for “the spirit of generosity of public spaces” and “the truly open civic space used by all.”
In major cities like New York and Paris, the parks and other public spaces created in the 19th century were a direct result of social and economic changes that gave rise to a vast middle class as well as to the democratization of art and literature.
“One common aspect central to some of the greatest art and design of this period has been described as ‘realism,’ with more of a concern for the physical and social world,” Olin said.
In exploring the difficulties of creating public spaces in the latter part of the 20th century – and in defining his notion of “civic realism,” Olin employed a narrative history of his own personal work – which has produced many famous public places that engage issues of civic purpose.
Today, the challenges that must be confronted include the increasing urbanization of world culture, questions of human wellbeing, social justice and humanity’s relationship to nature. “For example, the needs of children and the elderly, not a central audience for civic design in the past, are rarely addressed as influential in the design of cities or public space,” Olin said.
Speaking while sharing slides illustrating the range of his previous and ongoing work, Olin explained how his design is guided by “the conscious perfection of the ordinary.”
In closing, Olin noted the poetry of the ordinary found in public spaces: “I know that well-designed cities cannot imitate all of nature, but they can incorporate aspects of it which we find stimulating and essential – setting into play the beautiful shapes, the forms: the elegant and simple, elaborate and complex, changeable and recurring, stable and moving shapes of natural phenomenon, those shades of pools of light that play on vegetation and changes of surfaces, the varied hues and perspectives, the echoes of music, the harmony and contrast of colors in the unpolluted sun – these are all very ordinary things.”
“But making them available to citizens in their daily routine – at the very heart of our cities – is to offer up a dose of reality.”
– by Robert Hull
Robert Mueller: Transforming the FBI After 9/11 Was No Simple Task
Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Mueller – who had taken office Sept. 4 – was summoned to the White House to deliver his first briefing to President George W. Bush.
Mueller, who says he was “scared to death” and so new to the FBI that he could barely find his office, had prepared extensively to update Bush on the FBI’s activities in response to the attacks. Agents had established crime scenes at all relevant locations, he told the president, had begun to identify the hijackers and were already concluding that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida were responsible.
“The president stopped me and said, ‘Bob, that’s all well and good. That’s what I expected the bureau to do. That’s what the bureau has been doing well for the last 100 years. What I want to know from you is, what are you doing to prevent the next terrorist attack?’” Mueller recalled Friday at U.Va.’s School of Law. “I felt like a high school kid who had done the wrong homework assignment. I got it wrong.”
From that moment, Mueller said, he realized that the FBI could no longer be reactive to crime and terrorism. It had to grow more proactive and overhaul its priorities and capabilities.
“The days after the attacks of Sept. 11 changed the course of the bureau,” he said. “National security – that is, preventing terrorist attacks – became our top priority. We shifted 2,000 agents from our criminal programs to national security and we understood that we had to focus on long-term strategic change – enhance our intelligence capabilities, upgrade technology, build strong partnerships, forge strong friendships – both here at home and abroad.”
The transformation was no simple task, said Mueller, the longest-serving FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover.
“I love doing trials. I love doing bank robberies, drug cases, homicides, as a prosecutor. That’s what I thought I was going to be overseeing when I got to the bureau,” he said. “Turned out not to be the case. The fact of the matter is, it’s not what we want to do, it’s what the American people need us to do.”
Traditionally, he said, the FBI’s success was determined based on metrics such as the number of arrests and convictions. “Our metric now is one – how many terrorist attacks have occurred in the last 10 to 12 years on the territory of the United States.”
Uncompromising integrity is a core value at both the FBI and the U.Va. School of Law, said Mueller, a 1973 graduate of the school.
“As the saying goes, if you have integrity, there is nothing else that matters,” he said. “And if you don’t have integrity, there is nothing else that matters.”
For attorneys and non-attorneys alike, he said, there will be times in which they are tested in ways both small and large.
“You may find yourself standing alone against those who you thought were trusted colleagues,” he said. “You may stand to lose what you have worked for, and the decision will not necessarily be an easy call. But this institution, Virginia, has prepared its students for such tests. Integrity is a way of life here at this institution.”
– by Brian McNeill
Wendy Kopp: Starting A Revolution To Close Educational Opportunity Gap
Kopp founded Teach For America to close the educational opportunity gap, she told an audience of more than 150 Thursday in Old Cabell Hall. She called on this generation to dedicate itself to a revolution in education.
Among children born into families with incomes in the lowest 20 percent, only 34 percent will attend college, compared to 80 percent of children from families in the highest quintile. Low-income areas send more boys to prison than to college. If such outcomes persist, “you realize we don’t have a chance to live up to our moral, civic and economic obligations if we don't take that on,” she said.
Kopp founded Teach For America with a vision, she said, that “by asking people to commit two years to firsthand work in our highest-need classrooms, to go above and beyond traditional expectations and help address this injustice for the kids growing up today, that that experience would, in essence, radicalize them and would change everything about their career trajectories and priorities, and would ultimately shape a generation of leaders who are fundamentally committed to taking on this challenge.”
The vision seems to be working, as Kopp explained by sharing a couple of the biggest lessons of her career.
First, America's educational inequality is a solvable problem, she said. Whole communities are making substantial progress in closing the achievement gap. In the New York City school system, with 1.1 million students and 80,000 teachers, the graduation rate for African-American and Latino students has risen by 20 points in less than a decade, and fourth-grader achievement is now a full school year ahead of where it was.
“All this shows that we can make an enormous difference against a problem that many people view as completely intractable,” she said. “Once you realize we can do this, you realize we have to do it.”
Second, where there has been meaningful progress, “always at the core of the solution is leadership,” she said, “a constellation of leaders who understand that very different outcomes are possible and act accordingly.”
Teach For America has played a significant role in developing that leadership, she said. Two-thirds of the program’s alumni never leave education. “Take away those, and you would take away a lot of the energy and leadership driving the change,” she said.
Program alumni lead about 40 percent of New Orleans schools and nearly all of the city’s after-school support programs and organizations. In the last six years, New Orleans schools have more than doubled the rate of students meeting state performance standards.
Third, the successes in New Orleans, New York and elsewhere provide lessons that can be transferred across the nation and even around the world, Kopp said, because so many places share the same fundamental problem: children's socioeconomic background predicts their educational outcomes.
In 2007, Kopp founded Teach For All, an international network of organizations similar to, or inspired by, Teach For America. Now there are schools in India, Israel and rural Chile inspired by the “Knowledge Is Power Program,” or KIPP, a network of charter schools in America, she said. Conversely, reforms and innovations from the far corners of the world will gradually make their way back here.
“Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.’ Every generation has its rebellion, its revolution. I hope that this generation determines that education will be its revolution.”
– by Brevy Cannon