Jurist Mikva, arts leader Lee to receive Benton, Rosenberger medals

The University will award the Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service to jurist and public servant Abner Mikva, JD’51, and the Jesse L. Rosenberger Medal to choral director and arts leader Josephine Lee. The recipients will receive their honors at the University of Chicago’s 519th Convocation on Saturday, June 14.

Abner Mikva devoted his life to public service in all three branches of the federal government, and in state government as well. He spent 10 years in the Illinois House of Representatives before being elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968.


In 1979, President Jimmy Carter nominated Mikva to the federal appeals court in the District of Columbia. He was on the bench for 15 years, the last four as chief judge. He left the federal court in 1994 to become White House counsel for President Bill Clinton. He then returned to Chicago to teach at the UChicago Law School. In 1997, he and his wife, Zoe, PhB’47, AM’51, created the Mikva Challenge, a nonpartisan organization to encourage Chicago high school students to get involved in the democratic process.

In nominating Mikva, UChicago Prof. Charles Lipson wrote: “His volunteer efforts on behalf of Chicago and Illinois are manifold. In countless ways, Ab Mikva represents the highest level of honorable public service.”

Mikva is the 13th recipient of the Benton Medal, created in 1967 to honor Sen. William H. Benton on the occasion of his 25th anniversary as chairman and publisher of Encyclopaedia Britannica. The Benton Medal recognizes persons who have rendered distinguished public service in the field of education, which extends to include anyone who has contributed in a systematic and distinguished way to shaping minds and disseminating knowledge. 

Presenting Mikva at Convocation will be Lipson, the Peter B. Ritzma Professor in Political Science and the College.

Josephine Lee is the artistic director and president of the Chicago Children’s Choir, which serves more than 3,500 annually through programs in 65 Chicago schools, nine after-school neighborhood programs and the Voice of Chicago ensemble.

Under her leadership, the Chicago Children’s Choir has solidified longstanding partnerships with Chicago’s renowned arts institutions, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera and Ravinia Festival. She has also expanded the choir’s artistic breadth through celebrated collaborations with acclaimed theater and dance organizations.

In 2002, Chorus America named Lee the first Robert Shaw Conducting Fellow. In 2006, the Chicago Tribune named her a “Chicagoan of the Year in the Arts,” and in 2007, she was honored as a Distinguished Musician by the Union League Club of Chicago. In 2011, Lee was invited to serve on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Arts & Culture Transition Committee.

Lee received a bachelor’s degree in piano performance from DePaul University and a master’s degree in conducting from Northwestern University. She is the 50th recipient of the Rosenberger Medal, established in 1917 by Mr. and Mrs. Jesse L. Rosenberger. The medal recognizes achievement through research, in authorship, in invention, for discovery, for unusual public service or for anything “deemed of great benefit to humanity.”

Presenting Lee at Convocation will be Robert L. Kendrick, professor in Music and the College, and chair of the Music Department.

Nominations for the Benton and Rosenberger Medals are submitted by members of the faculty, evaluated by the faculty Committee on Awards and Prizes and voted upon by the Council of the University Senate.

The president of the University extends an invitation to both the Benton and Rosenberger nominees to receive their medals during the Spring Quarter Convocation. The nominees also are invited to give a public lecture or workshop the following academic year.