Michelle Kwan, the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history who now devotes her time to public service as a State Department official and Special Olympics International board member, will present the Commencement address and be awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters during Salve Regina’s 65th Commencement on Sunday, May 17.
Kwan is the wife of 2014 Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell, the grandson of the late Sen. Claiborne Pell. She was recently nominated by Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to serve on the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.
The most dominant figure skater of her era, Kwan won an unprecedented 43 championships, including five world championships, eight consecutive and nine overall U.S. championships and two Olympic medals.
In November 2006, she was appointed the first U.S. public diplomacy envoy. In this capacity, she has traveled the world to meet with young people to speak about leadership and to engage them in dialogue on social and educational issues. In June 2010, President Obama appointed her to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, a group that advises the president on ways to engage, empower and educate all Americans to lead active, healthy lifestyles.
"To me, it's about giving back," she told ABC News. "When I was an athlete it was so focused on me. Now, I've got to turn this more outward. I've got to make a difference in the world. I have that sense of responsibility to give back."
In December 2010, Kwan was elected to the board of directors of Special Olympics International, the organization's ultimate governing authority responsible for global affairs and strategies. This summer, she is helping to lead the effort to welcome the Special Olympic World Games to the U.S. for the first time in 16 years. More than 7,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities representing 177 countries will gather in Los Angeles from July 25-Aug. 2.
On May 26, Kwan will help kick off the Unified Relay Across America, the Special Olympics World Games torch relay that will touch every state in the country. "The flame of the torch is inspirational, in a way that few symbols can match," she said. "And I'm thrilled to be part of what promises to be the greatest and biggest Torch Run in United States history. [It] is going to unify the entire world in one giant celebration of the spirit of Special Olympics."
Kwan graduated from the University of Denver in 2008 with a degree in international studies. In 2011, she received a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, majoring in international relations.
She has earned numerous awards and honors, including: 2003 U.S. Olympic Committee Sportswoman of the Year; 2001 Sullivan Award (top amateur athlete in America); 1998 Sportswoman of the Year by the Women's Sports Foundation; 2002 and 2003 Kids' Choice Award and the 2002 Teen Choice Award as America's favorite female athlete. In 2000 she was selected one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People in the World." In 2003, Kwan earned her seventh U.S. Figure Skating Skater of the Year award. In an unprecedented move, U.S. Figure Skating renamed the award in her honor; it is now called the Michelle Kwan Trophy. In May 2010, she received an honorary doctor of humane letters from Southern Vermont College.