Former Olympic gold medalist to speak at ULS event tonight

She’s won Olympic medals and the TV competition “Dancing With the Stars.” She designs cheerleading uniforms – and she’s only 18.

Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson will speak at the University Lecture Series (ULS) in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom tonight at 7, making her one of the youngest speakers to host the event.

“There are definitely some college students that are right around her age and to think of all she’s been able to accomplish and all that she has dedicated to her sport … would be inspiring for students to see,” said Cindy Greenwood, assistant director for the Office of Student Programs. “If you put your mind to something and work hard for it, you can achieve what you’re trying to achieve, and I think that’s an inspirational message for anyone.”

Johnson competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics, where she won a gold and silver medal in women’s gymnastics. She was the 2007 World Women’s Gymnastics champion and the 2007 and 2008 U.S. National champion. She garnered even more fame for winning ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” in 2009.

Her lecture will last about 45 minutes to an hour, Greenwood said, followed by a question-and-answer and autograph session.

Johnson was selected from a list of 30 suggested speakers pooled from student surveys and ULS members.

Admission is free for students and the community, Greenwood said. However, students are allowed to enter the Ballroom before non-students to receive priority seating.

Genna Martella, a sophomore majoring in pre-medicine and psychology, said the lecture is widely anticipated by students. According to the ULS Facebook event page late Monday night, 113 people have confirmed to attend.

“It’ll be interesting because we don’t have a lot of younger speakers. It’s always interesting to see how college students react to younger speakers when they see how much they’ve done,” Martella said. “Student’s usually leave with a go-getting attitude after the lecture, so hopefully there will be the same effect with Shawn Johnson.”

To speak at USF, Johnson is receiving $27,500 – including travel and performance costs – funded by student-paid Activity and Service fees, Greenwood said.

Following Johnson, the final ULS event of the semester will be “Mythbusters: Tory and Grant” on April 20, according to uls.usf.edu. Martella said students can indicate their preferences for future speakers on a “satisfaction survey” handed out at ULS events.

Students vote on the top 30 suggestions, which are determined by ULS committee members, on the ULS web site in an online survey that is available at the end of each spring semester.

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