News / USA

Backdrop of Kerry's First Speech as Secretary of State Rich in Its Own History

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chose the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for his first speech, Wednesday, February 20, 2013, as secretary of state. The university, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson in the early 19th century, is one of the oldest in the country and is rich in American history.

Column after white column.  Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian stand before a backdrop of red brick. Serpentine Walls and domes round out the architecture of the University of Virginia, designed by the nation's third president, Thomas Jefferson.

A statue of Jefferson overlooks the grounds that carry reminders of a time long ago. Jefferson was also the first secretary of state, appointed by the nation's first president, George Washington. Alexander Gilliam is the school's history officer.

“After the Revolutionary War, he was appointed Minister of France - minister would be equivalent to ambassador now - and when he came back, Washington asked him to be secretary of state," said Gilliam.

Jefferson was a visionary, who ignored the tradition of building a school around a church. Instead, the university was designed around a library housed in this rotunda, a one-fourth sized model of the Pantheon in Rome.

This was Jefferson's favorite view of the university - out the center window at the top of the rotunda dome to the lawn.

The lawn is nearly a hectare long....and is the focus of what's called the academic village, a grouping of buildings. Students and professors both live along the sides of the lawn and some classes take place here.

Jefferson promoted global knowledge. A practice carried on by the university's vice provost of global affairs, Jeff Legro.

“Jefferson was an iconoclast [non-conformist] in terms of fierce independence," said Legro. "But he was a student of the world. To better understand U.S. challenges, he also looked at how others handled their challenges.”

As an international student, Jonathan Lim reaps the rewards of that global viewpoint.

“I'm from Singapore," said Lim. "I think being here at this university and getting to hear him firsthand, about American foreign policy from within the American perspective really gives me a lot to think about. Really prepares me to serve my own community, wherever I am in the future.”

Thomas Jefferson was in his 70s when he started to work on the university design. He called it his hobby of old age. Today, his hobby enrolls 21,000 students and ranks number- two out of the nation's public institutions.

Carolyn Presutti

Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters.   She has also won numerous Associated Press awards and a Clarion for her coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, and The 9/11 Bombing Anniversary.  In 2013, Carolyn aired exclusive stories on the Asiana plane crash and was named VOA’s chief reporter with Google Glass.

You can follow Carolyn on Twitter at CarolynVOA, on Google Plus and Facebook.

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