The recently retired director of Jones Beach reflects on her surprising career path.

Although Susan Giuliani worked at Jones Beach for 38 years before retiring in December 2015, you can still hear the wonder in her voice when she talks about it.

“You’re in the ocean for five minutes, and you forget everything else that’s happening around you,” she said. “We’re so close to the metropolitan area, but when you get here it’s like you’re in a whole other world.”

Getting swept away by the magic of the place was far from what Giuliani expected when she started at Jones Beach in 1977. At the time, she was an Adelphi undergraduate majoring in physical education, and Jones Beach was just a summer job in the locker room, picking up trash, helping people access lockers.

But she came back the next summer, and then the summer after that too, and in 1980 she started working at Jones Beach full time. Still, she didn’t envision a career there. In 1990, she returned to Adelphi for a second bachelor’s degree, this time in nursing. She graduated summa cum laude in 1994.

“I loved it. I was very happy with the education,” Giuliani said. But she’d continued working at Jones Beach while studying, and she’d received two promotions. On top of that, she had moved into housing within the park, too great a spot to give up. “When you live in the park, you’re immersed in it,” she said.

Giuliani served as assistant director for 10 years before she took over as director in 2003, years of experience that served her well. “When you grow up in the park, you learn as you go along,” she said.

But she didn’t just continue on without change. Under Giuliani’s leadership as the first female director of Jones Beach, the park held its first annual air show, a tradition now going on 13 years strong.

In a typical year, the air show draws more than 200,000 visitors to Jones Beach on each of the two days of Memorial Day Weekend.

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy turned Memorial Day Weekend into an even more significant occasion. After all the damage Jones Beach sustained in the storm, it took a monumental effort to reopen the park in time for the 2013 season.

“Buildings just disappeared,” Giuliani said, describing the incredible damage. “Tons and tons of trash washed up along the shore. Shacks on the beachfront were completely destroyed or moved a thousand feet down the beach. The administration building ran on generator power for six months.”

But in that six months, Giuliani and her team pushed on, and the park opened right on time for the air show—Jones Beach flying high once again.

Against the Odds: Read about the surprising success of three other alumni. 
This piece was published in AU VU, Spring 2016 issue.

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