Mother, Murray State University Board of Regents Vice Chair, Senior Vice President/Marketing Director, co-founder.
Name: Susan Guess
Occupation: Senior Vice President/Marketing Director
Fun fact about yourself: I love watching Big Brother!
HC: You are a major woman of interest on campus for us here at Her Campus MSU. Becoming/being a powerful woman can be difficult living in today’s world, and I know you’ve raised your daughter to where she has that same driven mindset. What is that driving force?
SG: I was one of nine children and grew up with five brothers at home. My father always believed that I could do anything and he would never let me settle for less than my best. I think it was his early belief in me and his persistence to never settle that always drove me to aim high. Our family didn’t have a lot of money and I was able to attend MSU on a Veterans scholarship because my father was a disabled war veteran. I never let the lack of resources stop me from pursuing my dreams and never believed it made me less than anyone else. In fact looking back, I now see that sometimes it is the difficult days that prepare us for the hard work and patience that is required to weather the storms. I am grateful for my upbringing and for the struggles we endured. While I am able to provide my daughter with opportunities my family couldn’t, I continue my father’s legacy of helping his granddaughter make her own mark on the world. Any success I have had always leads me back to women who supported my work and pushed me to do more. Women far too often don’t support one another. I am committed to doing my part to support my peers and the next generation of women. When one of us is successful, we all win!
Photo courtesy of Susan Guess
HC: You and Morgan are the founders of Guess Anti-Bullying Fund. Can you give me a rundown of what the organization was founded on and how you all act upon the bullying crisis among many today?
SG: We started the foundation nearly seven years ago after Morgan was bullied. She was just 8 years old when the bullying started. She experienced stomach spasms, panic attacks and was diagnosed as clinically depressed. She had to begin taking anti-depressants as a third grader. I told her that bad things are going to happen in life and she can choose to ignore them, blame others, or she could be a part of bringing positive change. Morgan chose to speak up and stand up and we haven’t looked back. The statistics are starting. 13 million kids will be bullied this year. A teen is bullied every 7 seconds and kids as young as 7 are now self-harming. When we began our work, Kentucky led the nation in teen suicide attempts. Over the years we have sponsored speakers, hosted film screenings for the documentary “Bully” and bought educational tool kits from the movie for any school in Kentucky who will use them. We sponsored a #bekindpaducah mural in Paducah and host an annual kindness walk each fall at the start of the school year. We also led an effort to write 12,000 kindness letters to every student in our schools in Paducah last fall as a way to spread kindness and to show students that someone does care and support them. We also hosted the international Inside Out Project where we lifted up the faces and voices of 12 bullied girls. We also team up with Texas Roadhouse to recognize a kind student of the month and have sponsored a Lunchroom Kindness Challenge as a way to get students to look up and around cafeterias and to support kids who are sitting alone. We are constantly looking for ways to lift up kindness and to inspire young people to become upstanders. The more we spread kindness and stand up to bullying, the better our world will be.
HC: Along with Guess Anti-Bullying, I understand you are very involved among people in our government because of your foundation. Would you ever see yourself moving to a higher point to make a difference in a way, or would you rather keep things local?
SG: We continue to work in our community but took our work statewide several years ago. Our greatest achievement has been the passage of legislation to finally define bullying in Kentucky. We lobbied former Governor Steve Beshear for three years to appoint a statewide task force to study the issue of bullying. He appointed the task force and included Morgan and I in the group. We studied the issue for nearly a year and the task force made several recommendations. Because of the budget constraints in the last session, we decided to focus first on support for a definition that let students know someone hears them, believes them, and will help them. Morgan testified several times to the Kentucky legislature and the bill did pass the legislature last year. We joined Governor Beshear last Spring to sign it into law. Melania Trump identified cyberbullying as one of her platforms as First Lady and we are working for Morgan to have a seat at the table. We believe she has a unique perspective and that Kentucky is a good example of citizens working together to create kinder school and community cultures. We are also working with Four Rivers Behavioral Health to open a drop-in center for those at-risk and experiencing mental health issues in our community and region. We learned a great deal about the mental health issues of Kentucky’s young people and visited one of these centers in Louisville many months ago. We are excited about how it can help students and young adults.
HC: What advice would you give your 20 year-old self, knowing what you know now?
SG: I would tell myself to be bold — dream bigger than you think is possible and go make it happen. I would tell myself to push through my fears and to go make a positive difference in the world. I would also tell the 20-year-old Susan to not be distracted by all of the noise in the world. God has a plan for you. Trust him and do His work. You don’t need to apologize for our dreams or our success.
HC: Any last words for our Racers?
SG: Enjoy every minute of college. It is a beautiful time of life! Do more than attend class. Get involved on campus and in the Murray community. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. The campus community is there to help you be successful!
You can learn more about Guess Anti-Bullying Fund at https://guessantibullying.com/