Provost Garson Encourages Students to Embrace "Public LIfe" in Convocation Address

Oct. 26, 2007 — Dr. Arthur Garson Jr., executive vice president and provost at the University of Virginia, reminded students who received intermediate honors at the University’s annual Fall Convocation that Thomas Jefferson founded U.Va. with a “unique mission” to prepare students for “a public life.”

Garson, the keynote speaker for the convocation, said that the University “instills in every person here the notion of an outer direction mission, one that focuses on preparing its students to become public minded citizen leaders.”

The ceremony in University Hall recognized 379 third-year U.Va. students with Intermediate Honors for being among the top 20 percent of students who had completed at least 60 credits of course work at U.Va. during their first two years.

In addition, Richard Bonnie, a professor of law and medicine, the director and co-founder of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy and a world leader in the the field of mental health law, received the Thomas Jefferson Award, the University’s highest honor, which has been given annually since 1955.

Garson, who is co-chair of the Commission on the Future of the University, referred to three strategic priorities - enhancing the student experience, international education and research, and science and technology - that commission has identified and explained how these priorities fulfill Jefferson’s public mission for the University.

As the country’s premier public univerity, Garson said, students need to understand that “it’s all about them” — i.e., the public.

Garson provided several examples of moments in his life when he was struck by the lesson of serving the public. His first patient as a pediatric cardiology fellow was five-year-old girl named Ginny who had just come out of heart surgery to repair her heart. That night Ginny went into cardiac arrest several times, but was shocked back to life. Later, when Ginny was 16, Garson diagnosed her with a serious heart rhythm problem, which was successfully treated with an expensive medicine.

But three years later, Garson said, he received a call from Ginny's parents telling him that she had died. Garson discovered that Ginny had stopped filling her prescription for the life-saving medicine that was no longer covered by Medicare, presumably to save her family money. “You better believe that changed my life,” said Garson, noting that there are “47 million individual stories” of what happens when the public does not have health insurance. “I’ve been working ever since for health care reform so that people can have health insurance.”

U.Va. students, said Garson, must accept their role as leaders who will lead the public with passion.

Following Garson, Casteen presented the Thomas Jefferson Award to Bonnie, whom he called “the world’s foremost legal expert in the field of mental health law.”

“For over 35 years, he has brilliantly explored the common ground between law and medicine, between jurisprudence and psychiatry,” said Casteen.  “The world’s foremost legal expert in the field of mental health law, Mr. Bonnie has fundamentally shaped the way in which doctors, lawyers, and citizens approach their relationship with some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

Bonnie currently chairs the Chief Justice’s Commission on Mental Health Law Reform, leading the review of the Commonwealth’s mental health laws, which were exposed as urgently in need of reform by the Virginia Tech massacre.

Bonnie is the 54th winner of the Thomas Jefferson Award, given to a member of the University community who “exemplifies in character, work and influence the principles and ideals of Jefferson, and thus advances the objectives for which he founded the University.”