UVA Alumna Among Three To Receive 2024 Jefferson Medals

March 27, 2024
Three medal winners

UVA alumna Kate Orff, left, will receive a Jefferson Foundation Medal along with Julieanna L. Richardson, center, and Roger L. Gregory. (Contributed photos)

A University of Virginia alumna and nationally recognized landscape architect, whose designs focus on adapting to rising seas and a warming climate, is one of three people who will be honored this year with a Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal.

The award is the highest honor the foundation and the University bestow upon individuals whose lives and work make a lasting impact in fields in which Jefferson, the University’s founder, excelled.

Kate Orff, a 1993 graduate, is the recipient of the Jefferson Medal for Architecture. She is the founder of SCAPE, a landscape architecture and urban design studio firm in New York that employs more than 80. She is perhaps best known for creating the Living Breakwaters on the South Shore of Staten Island, a project envisioned after Superstorm Sandy devastated the area. The idea was to create a shoreline more resilient to storms and their increasing intensity. Living Breakwaters and her firm’s other coastal projects have become frequently cited models for designing landscapes in areas most affected by climate change.

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She is joined this year by two other medalists: Julieanna L. Richardson will receive the Jefferson Medal in Citizen Leadership and Roger L. Gregory will receive the Jefferson Medal in Law.

Richardson is the founder and president of a national nonprofit educational institution called The HistoryMakers that has curated, presented and preserved on video the histories of thousands of African Americans. The Chicago-based organization describes itself as “the digital repository for the Black experience.”

Gregory, who as a child was scarred by fire and suffered from asthma, was adopted by parents who worked in the Virginia tobacco industry. He grew up to become the first Black judge to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. 

“I am delighted to honor this year’s Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal recipients, who each exemplify the spirit of innovation and commitment to lifelong learning that marked Jefferson’s life,” UVA President Jim Ryan said. “Their contributions, whether creating spaces that can adapt as our climate changes, preserving and sharing history, or making our laws more equitable and just, have changed our world for the better.”

The medals will be presented April 12 during a luncheon in the Rotunda – one day before Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, which is celebrated at UVA as Founder’s Day. This year’s event marks the 281st anniversary of Jefferson’s birth. Jefferson, the nation’s third president, founded UVA in 1819.

“In 1785, Thomas Jefferson wrote that ‘honesty, knowledge and industry’ were the habits of mind, and of character, that should earn the new nation’s ‘highest esteem,’” Jane Kamensky, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, said. “We are honored to welcome the 2024 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medalists, who have demonstrated these qualities through their remarkable careers and contributions. This year’s winners have broken barriers in our nation’s legal system, spearheaded architectural efforts to address climate change, and founded the largest effort to record and preserve the African American experience in nearly a century.”

Gregory is scheduled to speak about his life and career on April 11 at 1:30 p.m. in the School of Law’s Caplin Pavilion. Orff will speak on April 12 at 3:30 p.m. in the Old Cabell Hall Auditorium. Richardson’s speaking schedule is still being determined. 

The medal ceremony is part of an extensive schedule of Founders Day events planned for April 12.

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Mike Mather

Managing Editor University Communications