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Famous Feet on Grounds

Glimpses of a few whose presence has graced our space over the years

Enjoy this brief list of notables who have strolled the Lawn, performed at UVA venues or enlightened UVA audiences across the decades. Many more could be included in this scroll back through time—including musicians such as pianist and conductor Rachmaninoff; athletes such as football great Peyton Manning; multiple U.S. presidents; and literary standouts such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Robert Frost.

As you consider this small sampling of UVA celebrity spotting, whom else do you remember?

Frank Sinatra
Feb. 16, 1940

Frank Sinatra performing in Old Cabell Hall in 1940
UVA Special Collections Library

Soon after joining the Tommy Dorsey band, Sinatra gives a concert with Connie Haynes in Old Cabell Hall. Together, Dorsey and Sinatra will go on to record favorites such as “Stardust” and “I’ll be Seeing You.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt
June 10, 1940

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Memorial Gymnasium
UVA Alumni News

The president prepares to address a crowd in Memorial Gym during Final Exercises, which includes his son Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr. (Law ’40). Italy had just that morning declared war on France and Great Britain, and so Roosevelt announces, “On this 10th day of June, 1940, the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor.” According to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, “from then on there would be all-out aid to the democracies and an unprecedented build-up in America’s military preparedness.”

W.H. Auden
March 24, 1949

W.H. Auden speaking in Old Cabell Hall
UVA Special Collections Library

In Old Cabell Hall, the British-American poet and Pulitzer winner delivers his last talk in a three-part series “The Enchafèd Flood”— part of the Page-Barbour Lectures, which were founded in 1907 and continue today. Other Page-Barbour lecturers have included former president and chief justice William Howard Taft, psychologist B.F. Skinner, and novelist Marilynne Robinson.

Martin Luther King Jr.
March 25, 1963

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in Old Cabell Hall
UVA Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

At the invitation of students, King arrives in Charlottesville without bodyguards and delivers a speech on the “Future of Integration.” He earns a standing ovation from the packed crowd at Old Cabell Hall, filled with many members of the black church community.

Kurt Vonnegut
Dec. 12, 1971

Kurt Vonnegut in Old Cabell Hall
Charley Sands

The novelist, most famous for Slaughterhouse-Five, published in 1969, speaks to a full house in Old Cabell Hall about topics ranging from his experience growing up during the Depression to his writing philosophy. He remains on Grounds the following day to participate in seminars, where the Cavalier Daily reports he is “relaxed and extremely verbose,” unlike his “stage-struck” demeanor the previous night.

Walter Cronkite
March 17, 1973

Walter Cronkite
UVA Alumni News

The CBS news anchorman speaks to a crowd of 4,000 at U-Hall. According to The Cavalier Daily, he chastises “the American people and the current administration for allowing a state of affairs where dissenters are jailed, wires are tapped, and protesting citizens are ‘classified as subversives and put into the unforgetting files of government computers.’”

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
Sept. 22, 1975

Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right)
David Skinner; UVA Special Collections Library

The Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters (Bernstein at left, Woodward at right) speak to several hundred UVA students in U-Hall about their reporting on the Watergate break-in. The two will return to Charlottesville in 2012 as guest speakers at the Virginia Film Festival, to discuss All the President’s Men, the 1976 film based on their book.

Queen Elizabeth II
July 10, 1976

Queen Elizabeth II on the steps of the Rotunda
Ed Roseberry

The queen and her husband, Prince Philip, honor the U.S. bicentennial with visits to several U.S. cities. On the Lawn, both stop to greet some of the 18,000 gathered to see them. “It is a moving experience to stand here amidst the beauty he [Mr. Jefferson] created at this University,” Queen Elizabeth says, according to UVA Alumni News.

Elizabeth Taylor
Jan. 21, 1977

Elizabeth Taylor and husband John Warner walking past the UVA chapel
UVA Special Collections Library

The actress’ husband—not Taylor herself—is the primary focus of their visit: John Warner (Law ’53), former secretary of the Navy, donates his personal papers to UVA. He will later serve as a U.S. senator from 1979 to 2009. During the couple’s two-day visit, Taylor holds a drama seminar for UVA drama students and local high-school students.

Dalai Lama
Sept. 13, 1979

The Dalai Lama on the Lawn
Ed Roseberry

On his first visit to UVA, the then-44-year-old Buddhist leader speaks at the School of Nursing on the topic “Tibetan Views of Dying.” He also attends presentations on Western treatments for cancer at the UVA Medical Center. He will return to Charlottesville in 1998 for a Nobel Laureate Peace Conference and again in 2012 to speak about compassion, modern medicine and ethics.

Sandra Day O’Connor
April 13, 1987

Sandra Day O’Connor on the Lawn
Peggy Harrison

The Supreme Court Justice is the first woman to receive the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law, one of UVA’s highest honors. But she also visited UVA both before and after her service as a justice—including several months in 1954 while her husband attended Judge Advocate General school. Over the years, many other justices visited UVA, including Warren Burger, Thurgood Marshall, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Muhammad Ali
Jan. 26, 1988

Muhammad Ali speaking to a UVA Law class
Elizabeth Wilkerson

The boxing legend visits the UVA Law class of Stephen Saltzburg (at left) to discuss his Supreme Court case Clay v. United States. Ali (born as Cassius Clay) had appealed for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. When that was denied and he refused to report for induction, he was convicted of draft evasion and stripped of his world heavyweight boxing title. The conviction was reversed in 1971.

Rosa Parks
Feb. 9, 1990

Rosa Parks (center) with UVA President Robert O’Neil
UVA Visual History Collection

The civil rights activist (center), known for her crucial role in the 1955-1956 Montgomery bus boycott, shares the stage with UVA President Robert O’Neil and the Black Voices gospel choir. Parks spoke on “Living the Dream” to a crowd in Old Cabell Hall during Black History Month. Anton Bizzell (Col ’92, Med ’98), then-vice president of Black Voices, remembers what it was like to shake hands with Parks, who “was really the impetus behind the civil rights movement.”

Mikhail Gorbachev
April 13, 1993

Mikhail Gorbachev visiting UVA
Michael Marshall

The former Soviet leader and his wife, Raisa, celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s 250th birthday, where Gorbachev delivers the Founder’s Day address.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan
June 15, 1994

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan speaking with UVA President John T. Casteen III
Dan Grogan

The imperial couple visit UVA as part of their 15-day goodwill tour of the United States. Their time in Charlottesville includes a visit to Monticello, followed by a Lawn tour and private luncheon in the Rotunda with UVA President John T. Casteen III (at right).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
March 7, 1997

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (right) with UVA law professor Anne Coughlin
UVA Law Archives

The Supreme Court Justice addresses a standing-room-only crowd at the Law School after receiving the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law. She also visits the feminist jurisprudence class taught by professor Anne Coughlin (at center).

Desmond Tutu
Nov. 5, 1998

Desmond Tutu speaking
Jim Carpenter

The South African leader is one of seven Nobel Peace Prize Laureates invited to UVA to discuss human rights and conflict resolution. According to The Daily Progress, when someone asks why he is so recognized for his work against apartheid, “he smiled and said it perhaps had something to do with God’s sense of humor: ‘Tutu’ is a name short and easy to pronounce.”

Tom Wolfe
May 20, 2006

Author Tom Wolfe delivering his valedictory address in 2006
Dan Addison

The author of The Bonfire of the Vanities and pioneer of New Journalism speaks to the Class of 2006 during Valedictory Exercises. Now, Wolfe says, is a “perfect time to make a huge difference in such a confused and, I would say, chaotic universe,” according to UVA Today.

Stephen Colbert
May 18, 2013

Comedian Stephen Colbert speaking at 2013 Valedictory Exercises
Dan Addison

Addressing the Class of 2013 during Valedictory Exercises, the late-night host brings huge laughs throughout—beginning when he “accepts” (as a speaker’s honorarium) the outsized check intended as the class gift: “This is way more than I expected. I would have done it for free.” Watch the video »

Condoleezza Rice
Sept. 12, 2019

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaking at the Miller Center
Sanjay Suchak

The 66th secretary of state joins 9/11 Commission director Philip Zelikow and former White House correspondent Ann Compton for a Newcomb Hall discussion about foreign policy choices that shaped pre-9/11 society. Other secretaries of state have also visited UVA, including James Baker III, Madeleine Albright, Hilary Clinton and John Kerry.