Founder’s Day Fete Celebrates This Year’s Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medalists

April 13, 2022 By Jane Kelly, Jane Kelly,

On a warm and breezy Wednesday afternoon, the University of Virginia marked Founder’s Day by awarding three Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals, the University’s highest external honors.

Each year on Jefferson’s birthday, UVA and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello award the medals for exemplary achievement in fields the former president and founder of the University admired.

The 2022 medalists are:

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  • Architecture: Kenneth FramptonWare Professor of Architecture at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where he has taught since 1972. Frampton is considered one of the world’s foremost experts in modern architecture.
  • Citizen Leadership: Sherrie Rollins Westin, president of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind “Sesame Street.” Westin leads efforts to serve vulnerable children through mass media and targeted initiatives in the United States and around the world.
  • Law: Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, a graduate of Stanford University, Oxford University and Harvard Law School. In 1994, he was appointed a Supreme Court justice by President Bill Clinton. He will retire from the court at the end of the 2021-22 term.

UVA President Jim Ryan and Leslie Greene Bowman, president and CEO of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, presented the medals Wednesday during a luncheon in the Rotunda’s Dome Room.

“Many of the ideals that Jefferson espoused remain at the heart of the American experiment and at the heart of the University of Virginia, including citizen leadership, self-governance and public service,” Ryan said as guests dipped into their desserts. “That’s why today, on what would have been his 279th birthday, we come together to consider Jefferson’s legacy and to recognize the women and men who are building on it.”

All three medalists gave public talks about their work. Breyer spoke Tuesday at the School of Law. Westin, a 1980 UVA graduate, spoke Wednesday morning at Monticello, and Frampton delivered his address Wednesday afternoon at the School of Architecture.

Sherrie Rollins Westin: Jefferson Would Have Have Been Happy on ‘Sesame Street’

Sherrie Rollins Westin shakes hands with UVA President Jim Ryan, who is holding an open medal box

Westin said she was humbled to receive the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership from UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

“I cannot think of a more meaningful honor to receive,” Westin said. “It has been given to so many heroes of mine – people like the incomparable John Lewis, Marian Wright Edelman and my dear friend Pete Peterson, whose remarkable commitment and lasting contributions build on Jefferson’s own ideals and endeavors.”

In reflecting on how a children’s television show such as “Sesame Street” ties in with Jefferson’s legacy, Westin said the connection is education.

“Mr. Jefferson devoted his life to the life of the mind, to learning, to reading,” Westin said. “I would like to think that he would have been very happy on ‘Sesame Street.’”

Westin speaks from a podium in front of Monticello.
On Wednesday morning, Sherrie Rollins Westin, president of Sesame Workshop, delivered remarks at Monticello. (Photo by Ian Atkins)

Westin, who spent several years serving in government and media before “Sesame Street,” added: “Today, the people walking around the University’s Grounds look a bit different than they did two centuries ago. For all his belief in expanding education, Jefferson and his peers focused their efforts on improving the lives and minds of white men, but even as we recognize the limits of his vision, I believe that the underlying values to which Jefferson dedicated himself are as vital and essential as ever.”

Westin said “Sesame Street” debuted at a critical time in American history, and has continued to help children and families navigate challenging times.

“As the country grappled with the death of Dr. Martin Luther King and the struggles of the civil rights movement, ‘Sesame Street’ was the first children’s show to feature a racially integrated cast that celebrated our differences, as well as our common humanity,” she said.

The show’s impact on education and kids around the world, as well as their parents, has been immeasurable, particularly during the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sesame has tackled some of the most challenging issues that face us all – addiction, incarceration, divorce, even death,” Westin said. “We always approach these challenges from the lens of a child, with extensive research to make sure we’re on the right path.”

By Whitelaw Reid

Kenneth Frampton: Still Forging Ahead at 91

Frampton speaks in the UVA Rotunda Dome Room

Frampton is a 91-year-old with a legacy that “continues to be written.”

That’s how UVA School of Architecture Dean Malo A. Hutson described Frampton’s remarkable career before introducing the longtime architect, critic, historian and professor as this year’s recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture at Campbell Hall.

“His intellectual generosity, and his extraordinary dedication to educating generations of architects, is a legacy that continues to be written,” Hutson said.

A professor at Columbia for nearly five decades, Frampton used his platform Wednesday to highlight the work done by one of the first winners of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture.

Alvar Aalto, a Finnish architect and designer, was the second-ever recipient of the honor in 1967. Frampton presented analysis of three canonical works of Aalto, whose vision of “place-creation” is still relevant today.

Kenneth Frampton speaks, an architectural rendering behind him
Frampton delivered his talk on architecture to a rapt audience Wednesday afternoon at Campbell Hall, after the awards luncheon in the Dome Room. (Photo by Tom Daly)

One of Aalto’s designs that Frampton detailed was his work on the Baker House, a student dormitory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Constructed in the 1940s, the Baker House’s serpentine form is built on top of an earthwork, carefully situated into a site to maximize views of the Charles River while allowing for public spaces for gathering.

Earlier Wednesday, Frampton accepted his medal in another public space that caught his eye, the Dome Room. He mentioned he’d visited UVA once before and remembered the iconic space.

“This looks very spectacular,” Frampton said. “It’s really quite exceptional. I don’t have too much more to say, except to thank [Jim] Ryan, the president of the University of Virginia, and Leslie Bowman Green, the president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and trustees of Thomas Jefferson and above all, Dean Malo Hutson.”

By Andrew Ramspacher

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications