Olympic Speed Skating Gold Medalist Announced as 2018 Commencement Keynote Speaker

Jessica Clifford
Staff Writer


PC: Madison Hoffmann

Joey Cheek, an Olympic speed skating gold medalist, was announced as the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s (UNCG) commencement keynote speaker for spring 2018.

The all-in-one former Olympian, current commentator and humanitarian, will speak in front of approximately 2,745 students on May 4.

He is an internationally recognized speed skater, winning more than 25 World Cup and World Championship medals.

Cheek is a Greensboro native and was was awarded his first Olympic medal in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002 when he won bronze in the 1,000-meter race. He also won gold and silver medals in Torino, Italy at the 2006 Olympic games.   

Cheek became one of two American male sprint world champions, after Eric Heiden and Dan Jansen. He is most recently known for his first-ever broadcasting coverage of the speed skating event for NBC during the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The now-retired Olympian was named one of TIME’s 100 most influential people, and he was recognized by the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame as well as the U.S. Speed Skating Hall of Fame

Like many Olympians that came before him, Cheek’s face has also appeared on a Wheaties cereal box.  

“We are thrilled to have Joey address the class of 2018,” said Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. “He exemplifies the values we work to instill in our Spartans—a tenacious work ethic and commitment to excellence that leads to real, meaningful impact on our world.”

After retiring, Cheek turned to humanitarian work, donating $40,000 of his total Olympic winnings to Right to Play, an athlete-driven international organization that aids children in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North America by teaching them life skills. $1.5 million more in donations were given to Right to Play after Cheek urged people to donate alongside him.

In 2006, Cheek co-founded Team Darfur, an international coalition that advocates and fundraises for the people in Darfur. The coalition consists of more than 500 athletes across the globe.

Currently, Cheek works as a corporate speaker for Fortune 500 Companies. He also serves on the board of the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame and began a digital sports content company.

“One of the things that we are trying to do moving forward is have those household names,” said Eden Bloss, the senior director of external communications at UNCG. “…there is a certain amount of pride that this person wants to come and talk to our students.”

Cheek is one of the more globally-recognized names to make the list of commencement keynote speakers, after Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of “Hidden Figures” made her speech last spring.

As UNCG continues to expand through its recent completion of the Kaplan Center, its current demolition of the McIver building and its future construction for a new nursing building, Bloss made it evident that our school’s recognizability is advancing as well.

UNCG’s annual tradition to host a spring commencement keynote speaker dates back to 1893, with many previous speakers including reverends, authors, governors, university presidents and more.

Faculty encourages students who are hesitant to take part in the spring commencement to rethink their decision.

“As our graduates look to the next chapter of their lives, to what is possible, his story is inspirational and aspirational,” Gilliam said. “…I am confident [Cheek] will inspire our graduates to forge their path and take giant steps in every area of their lives.”

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