Gold medal Olympic sprinter, humanitarian and Texas Ex Sanya Richards-Ross will deliver the commencement address during the 130th Spring Commencement at The University of Texas at Austin.
Richards-Ross, who won the women’s 400-meter race and anchored the women’s 4×400-meter relay to victory in the London Summer Olympics in 2012, will address about 8,000 spring graduates and their guests during the 8 p.m. ceremony on the university’s Main Mall. She was chosen to speak by leaders of three student organizations.
She attended the university from 2002 to 2005, majoring in business and starring on the women’s track and field team. She became a professional runner in 2005 and has established a program to help children excel in school and lead healthy lives.
“The honor of being the speaker at the UT commencement is one of the biggest honors of my career, and being chosen by students makes it one of the most meaningful,” Richards-Ross said. “The University of Texas, its students, faculty and staff all hold a very near and dear place in my heart and always will, so to know that as a former student I still have the support of the current student body encourages me to continue to make Longhorns everywhere proud.”
“Sanya is not only a superb example to our students of hard work, perseverance and integrity, she is an engaging speaker who will no doubt bring a powerful message,” Bill Powers, president of the university, said. “Decades from now, the Class of 2013 will remember vividly who their commencement speaker was and how she inspired them.”
The students selected her because she is a leader at the top of her profession who has achieved success through integrity and hard work, said Michael Morton, Senate of College Councils president.
“Richards-Ross is not only a role model, she is an inspiration to all Longhorns and someone who has orchestrated a path to greatness that future generations of students and fellow Texans will aspire to,” he said. “Her achievements in track and field are certainly impressive, but what truly sets Sanya apart is her poise, her integrity and her humility. We are honored to have not only a great athlete and former Longhorn as commencement speaker, but more importantly, a great and well-respected individual.”
In the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Richards-Ross reached the high point in her track career so far when she won the gold medal in the 400-meter race. She outran two competitors in the race’s homestretch to finish first.
In addition to her individual gold, Richards-Ross has won three gold medals as a member of relay teams. Her dramatic come-from-behind final leg in the 4X400 meter relay secured gold for the United States in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Richards-Ross won the Jesse Owens Award, USA Track and Field’s highest honor, in 2006 and 2009.
Richards-Ross was born in Jamaica and her family moved to Florida when she was 12.
She arrived at The University of Texas at Austin in 2002 and enrolled in the McCombs School of Business. She also became a United States citizen in 2002.
Richards-Ross won several NCAA titles as well as major titles in national and international meets.
In 2003, she was the NCAA 400-meter champion, won the 200-meter race and finished second in the 400-meter race in the indoor championships.
Off the track, Richards-Ross has worked to bring fitness and education opportunities to young people and was named Visa Humanitarian Athlete of the Year by USA Track and Field in 2005.
She participated in USA Track and Field’s “Be a Champion” program, speaking to young people in communities from Miami to Austin. At UT Austin she was in the Longhorn Leaders program, working with adolescents in at-risk situations.
She also is involved with the organization’s Win With Integrity program, which encourages students and athletes to live a healthy, drug-free life.
Richards-Ross in 2007 created the Fast Track Program, which benefits children in need in Jamaica. The focus of the program is to enhance reading and mathematics skills, develop students’ readiness for standardized tests, promote an active and healthy lifestyle through sports, and enhance social skills with regard to professionalism and employability.
She is married to her college sweetheart, Aaron Ross, a former Longhorn football player who went on to win two Super Bowls with the New York Giants. He now plays cornerback for the Jacksonville Jaguars. They married on Feb. 26, 2010, Richards-Ross’ 25th birthday.