On April 13, 1993, the 150th birthday of Thomas Jefferson, Mikhail Gorbachev visited the University of Virginia. Only two years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the last Soviet premier found himself in the home of a man he claimed greatly influenced him. Gorbachev was first contracted by the Richmond Public Forum to speak that week and he added several other engagements, including stops at Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Richmond. He also agreed to give the Founder’s Day address at UVA. The leader of radical reforms, perestroika and glasnost, in the USSR had choice words for Jefferson: “For myself I found one thing to be true: having once begun a dialogue with Jefferson one continues the conversation with him forever.” It is amazing to think that Jefferson’s high-minded republicanism not only influenced our own American Revolution, but countless revolutions since. Gorbachev well captures the give-and-take relationship we have with the father of our University; his ideas are gripping, some a struggle to understand, yet all still pertinent and rewarding to consider.
Gorbachev would travel to Poplar Forest, Jefferson’s beautiful private retreat, later that day. But the premier’s highest praises were for the lawn itself and those at UVA. So as spring blooms, do not forget what Gorbachev, “The Man Who Changed the World”, has to say to us:
“You all live in paradise.”