Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, April 13, has been celebrated at the University of Virginia since the University’s first academic session. Locally, the celebration is known as Founder’s Day.
On Founder’s Day, UVA and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello join together to present the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals to recognize achievements of those who embrace endeavors in which Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and third U.S. president, excelled and held in high regard. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals in Architecture, Citizen Leadership, Global Innovation, and Law are the highest external honors bestowed by the University, which grants no honorary degrees. This year's recipients are:
- Architecture: Andrew Freear, the Wiatt Professor and director of Auburn University Rural Studio. Freear lives in rural Hale County, Alabama, where for nearly two decades he has directed a program that questions the conventional education of architects, through which his students have designed and built more than 200 community buildings, homes, and parks in their under-resourced community.
- Citizen Leadership: Jason Rezaian, an award-winning writer and journalist for The Washington Post. A first generation American of Iranian origin, Rezaian became The Post’s Tehran bureau chief in 2012. In 2014, he was arrested on unsubstantiated charges of espionage. Freed after 544 days of imprisonment, Rezaian has since used his platform to fight for the freedom and the liberty of others, championing the stories of other journalists imprisoned for doing their jobs and fellow Americans held hostage abroad solely because of their citizenship. His reporting continues to elevate the stories both of Iranians and those around the globe.
- Law: Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju, lawyers who in 2018, won a landmark case before India’s Supreme Court that struck down a 157-year-old law that made gay sex illegal. The pair, who have become heroes of the LGBTQ community in their country, are currently spearheading a marriage equality case to be heard by the Supreme Court of India this spring.
In addition to a formal dinner at Monticello, the medalists will be recognized at a luncheon in the Dome Room of the Rotunda. It is at this luncheon where Jim Ryan, president of UVA, and Leslie Greene Bowman, president and CEO of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, will present this year's recipients with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals. While on Grounds, each medalist will give a free public lecture in their field of expertise. Additionally, the Jason Rezaian, the Citizen Leadership medalist, will be the featured keynote speaker at Monticello’s commemoration of Jefferson’s birthday on April 13 at 10 a.m. on the West Lawn of Monticello.
Lastly, on Founder’s Day, the University plants a tree in celebration of a member of the UVA community who has made significant, lasting contributions to University life. This year's recipient announcement is forthcoming.
Past Recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals