Off the ice, Kwan strives to level playing field

Decorated Olympian now wields diplomatic clout

Inspire: When the skates come off, Kwan devotes her time and energy to the betterment of athletes worldwide. After retiring, Kwan’s own education took precedence. Deirdre Kerins / Copy Editor

Most Americans know Michelle Kwan as the most decorated figure skater to represent the United States during the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics. In addition to her accomplishments at the Olympics, Kwan is also a five-time World champion skater and nine-time U.S. champion skater. With such a successful career as an athlete, many might wonder what influenced Kwan to begin a completely separate career as a Public Diplomacy Envoy at the U.S. State Department, in 2006. Speaking on her experiences both on the ice and in a political position, Kwan visited SLU on Monday, April 27, as a guest speaker for the Great Issues Committee.

“People don’t always see the connection between skating and diplomacy, but I believe that we are not just ‘one thing.’ You choose what’s important to you,” Kwan said.

Throughout her career as a high-profile figure skater, while traveling the world and achieving unbelievable goals, Kwan did not think much about life beyond the ice. Having started her training at the age of five, Kwan’s sole mission in life was to one day compete in the Olympics. As successful as she wanted to be, and eventually became, the young Kwan did not have much time for anything else besides her daily hours of practice and preparation for big events. But once she retired at age 26, and officially hung up her skates, Kwan realized she had to keep pursuing the value of aspiration and work toward bettering herself.

After graduating from the University of Denver in 2009, and then moving on to pursue her master’s degree at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at the University of Tufts, Kwan claims that education has played a key role in her life, and that she has always felt a responsibility to earn a degree once she finished her career as a skater.

Once fulfilling this accomplishment, Kwan could continue inspiring others, although now in a different professional position.

Since beginning her new profession as a Public Diplomacy Envoy, Kwan has had the opportunity to work with two presidents and three Secretaries of State, and she continues to make strides in the global arena as a promoter of American values and athletic interests.

Kwan traveled as an envoy for six years through exchange programs that allowed her to make one-on-one contact with children in the different countries she visited. She also worked to promote equality for any child who hoped to participate in athletics at any point.

In addition to her political work, Kwan is also a staunch advocate for the Special Olympics. She is passionate about educating people on where disabilities and sports intersect, and she promotes positivity for anybody who hopes to compete athletically.

In her work both nationally and globally, Kwan has spoken on the need to expand upon opportunities for women to openly compete in athletic events. During her GIC speech, Kwan talked about her hope that one day each gender will have an equal opportunity to dream and achieve something from sports, and to gain the level of aspiration and growth from which she profited in her own athletic career.

Talking to the SLU student body, Michelle accredited her time on the ice for the passion she developed for her political career.

“I wear many hats, or as I say, I have many slashes in my life. I’m a wife; I’m an Olympian; I am a World and U.S. champion; I’m a Public Diplomacy Envoy; and sometimes I do pushups with the First Lady … but I do all of these things in the hope that I can inspire people on the things I’ve learned through sports, and to encourage others to always lend a helping hand.”

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