U.S. Ambassador to Belize: Who is Michelle Kwan?

Friday, July 07, 2023
Michelle Kwan

When George W. Bush was president of the United States, he chose his former college roommate, Robert Dieter, to be U.S. ambassador to Belize. When Barack Obama became president of the United States, he chose his former college roommate, Vinai Thummalapally, to be U.S. ambassador to Belize. When Donald Trump was president of the United States, he broke this tradition by failing to nominate anyone to be U.S. ambassador to Belize. The position had been vacant for four years when Joe Biden took over the White House. He appointed Michelle Kwan to be U.S. ambassador to Belize.


If this name seems familiar to sports and Olympics fans, yes, this is the same Michelle Kwan who won five world championships in figure skating and two Olympic medals.


Born in Torrance, California to Danny and Estelle Kwan, Michelle Kwan was born July 7, 1980. Her parents had immigrated from Hong Kong in 1971.


Michelle demonstrated unusual figure skating talent while she was still a child. In 1994 she won the Worlds Junior Championships. While still only thirteen years old, she went to the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics as an alternate in case Tonya Harding was kicked off the U.S. team. In 1996, still only fifteen years old, Kwan won her first senior world championship. She finished second to fellow American Tara Lipinski at the 1997 World Championships. The two entered the 1998 Nagano Olympics as the co-favorites, with Lipinski winning the narrowest of victories. Kwan regained the world championship in 1998, 2000 and 2001. She earned a bronze medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and won the World Championships again in 2003.


Kwan’s diplomatic career began in 2006 during the administration of George W. Bush, when she served as a pubilc diplomacy envoy to promote American values around the world, beginning with trips to China, Russia and Argentina. She continued during the administration of Barack Obama. In 2009, Kwan graduated from the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies with a degree in international relations. Two years later she earned a master’s degree from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Diplomacy.


She then moved to Washington D.C. and became a senior advisor at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. She also served as an advisor to the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.


President Joe Biden nominated Kwan to the post of ambassador to Belize, and she was confirmed by voice vote on September 29, 2022. She presented her credentials in Belize in December.


Formally married to Clay Pell, Kwan has one daughter, Kalista Belle, born in January 2022.


The skater who defeated Kwan in an upset at the 2002 Olympics was a 16-year-old American named Sarah Hughes. On May 15, 2023, Hughes filed to run for Congress in New York’s 4th Congressional District. As a point of information, the third medal winner in women’s figure skating at the Salt Lake City Olympics is unlikely to enter U.S. politics; Irina Slutskaya is a citizen of Russia.

-David Wallechinsky


Statement of Michelle Wingshan Kwan to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee


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