Yale Senior Carolyn Sussman ‘Gives Back’ in the Family Tradition
Yale senior Carolyn Sussman is living proof of John F. Kennedy’s famous saying, “Of those to whom much is given, much is required.” The granddaughter of the late Preston Robert Tisch—former U.S. Postmaster General, Loews Corporation Chairman, NY Giants’ Chairman, and noted philanthropist (he most recently restored over 40 athletic fields in NYC’s public high schools in a $135 million public/private venture known as “Take the Field”)—Sussman grew up with the understanding that she should always find time to give back, and she’s done it in spades.
Last year, Sussman co-chaired Yale’s spring “Relay for Life” event, the American Cancer Society’s biggest fundraiser, an 18 hour, overnight walkathon in hundreds of venues nationwide that requires one member of each relay team to be walking at all times. Under Carolyn’s leadership, Yale fielded 60 teams of 15 students and organized free musical entertainment and restaurant-donated food to fuel the energy of the 900 participating students, who camped out in tents at the Yale track. “It was a huge organizational feat,” said Sussman simply. Yale’s contribution to the American Cancer Society was a lofty $200,000, fifth overall among universities, and—not surprisingly—Carolyn was recognized as the number one individual fundraiser in the country. “Looking back on this award,” wrote Sussman in her thank-you notes to her backers, “It seems like the perfect end to my tribute to my grandfather [who passed away in 2005 of an inoperable brain tumor.] As you well know, he never settled for second place, and always worked hard to be the best, regardless of what he was doing.”
Far from resting on her laurels, Sussman will co-chair Yale’s “Relay for Life” event again this year, and her goals are even loftier. “I want to raise at least the same amount of money as last year, but from more people. So I’m asking my friends for $5. I’m asking the guy that sells coffee on the street for $5. I’m spreading it out so that each person is now aware of the “Relay for Life” and our drive to cure cancer,” explains Sussman with her characteristic enthusiasm and excitement. This year’s “Relay for Life” will be even more meaningful for Sussman: her grandmother, Joan Hyman Tisch, will walk a “caregivers’ lap” with her in memory of Carolyn’s late grandfather.
When not organizing next April’s “Relay for Life” committees or reading her political science textbooks, Carolyn also finds time to tutor an hour a week in a nearby New Haven elementary school. “It really gives me a perspective on my life,” says Sussman. “One of my kindergarten students wasn’t there one day because his brother was in jail. Another child’s brother was shot. I can walk three blocks from campus and be in a completely different world.” Sussman’s interest in education was fostered by both her parents: her mother, Laurie Tisch Sussman, founded and chairs the Center for Arts Education to enhance arts education in NYC public schools, and her father, Donald Sussman, served as Board Chairman of The Fieldston School in the Bronx, which she attended. “My parents quietly did their volunteer work, but they didn’t talk about it,” explained Sussman. “I grew up with the sense that privilege requires you to give back…It shouldn’t even be a question in your mind.” Her advice to others is simple and direct: “Don’t be intimidated by giving back. Everyone can find one hour. There’s always tomorrow to do that other stuff.”
So what’s next for Sussman, as she looks ahead to graduation in May? Like her grandfather, she might want to combine her passion for athletics (she was a field hockey and basketball player in high school) and helping others by working in the sports management field—or she might pursue her love of education by working in the “Teach for America” program. But one thing’s for sure: “I know that no matter what I do, I’ll find some way to help other people,” says Sussman with a certainty that belies her 21 years.#