About the Distinguished Alumna Award

The Distinguished Alumna Award was established in 1991 to honor alumnae whose contributions at the highest level in their fields reflect the spirit of excellence and the ethic of service for which a University of Virginia education stands. Recipients of the Alumna Award join a select group of advocates, public servants, journalists, athletes, researchers, and innovators who have received this honor over the past 25 years.

2016 Distinguished Alumna

Elizabeth Garrett (pictured above)
Our 2016 Distinguished Alumna, Elizabeth Garrett (Law ’88), was serving in her first year as President of Cornell University when we announced this award in January of 2016. The news that she was being treated for colon cancer came in late February and her death in early March was quite a shock to the communities at both Cornell and UVA.

In nominating Beth Garrett for this award, Law School Dean Paul Mahoney cited a dizzying array of achievements such as her record of legal scholarship and public service on issues of democracy, legislative process and tax reform; the positive impact of her leadership as provost at the University of Southern California; and the vision of higher education she had begun to articulate since beginning her term as Cornell’s first woman president in July 2015. Prior to serving as provost at U.S.C., Garrett was a professor at the University of Chicago School of Law with visiting professorships at several esteemed law schools, including UVA and Harvard University. Early in her career, Garrett served as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and as legislative director and tax and budget counsel for Sen. David L. Boren from her home state of Oklahoma.

The Selection Process

Early in the fall semester, we ask that each dean of a school at UVA nominate an alumna who is deserving of this important recognition and who exemplifies the values that graduates of her School are bringing to their work across the U.S. and around the world. From the deans’ nominations, our selection committee chooses the alumna who has best demonstrated excellence, leadership, and an extraordinary commitment to her field, and who has used her talents as a positive force for change. The award is presented during the subsequent calendar year.

Past Recipients of the Distinguished Alumna Award


Recipients of the Distinguished Alumna Award, along with their title at the time of their award, include:

1991   Linda A. Fairstein (Law ’72), Deputy Chief, Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit of New York City
1992   Vivian W. Pinn, M.D. (Med ’67), Director, National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women’s Health
1993   Katherine A. Couric (Col ’79), Anchor, NBC “Today Show”
1994   Professor Kathryn C. Thornton (Grad ’79), NASA Astronaut
1995   Hanan Mikhail Ashrawi (Grad ’82), Peace Activist and Scholar
1996   RADM Mariann Stratton, USN (Nur ’81), Rear Admiral (retired), Nurse Corps, U.S. Navy
1997   Valerie B. Ackerman (Col ’81), President, Women’s National Basketball Association
1998   Elaine Ruth Jones (Law ’70), Director, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
1999   Rebecca Rimel (Nur ’73), President and CEO, Pew Charitable Trusts
2001   Hallam Hurt, M.D. (Med ’71), Chair, Neonatology, Albert Einstein Medical Center
2003   Lawton W. Fitt (Darden ’79), British Royal Academy of the Arts
2004   Janet A. Napolitano (Law ’83), Governor of Arizona
2005   Denise G. Sherer, PhD, RN, FAAN (Nur ’70), Director, US Division of Nursing, Health Resources & Service Admin.
2006   Dawn M. Staley (Col ’92), Olympic Basketball Gold Medalist
2007   Jill S. Tietjen (Engr ’76), President and CEO, Technically Speaking, Inc.
2008   Christine Painley Gustafson (Col ’82), Senior Vice President, UBS Financial
2009   Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (Educ ’76), Congresswoman, WV 2nd Congressional District
2010   Cheryl D. Mills (Col ’87), Counselor & Chief of Staff, U.S. Department of State
2011   Alexandra Arriaga (Col ’87), Human Rights Advocate
2012   Kimberly Dozier (Grad ‘93), Journalist
2013   Jacqueline Novogratz (Col ’87), Founder and CEO, Acumen Fund