1959 Brooklyn Friends School graduate and this year’s recipient of the George Fox Award, Susan Segal Rai, cracked a wide smile when asked how she was able to play for every single sports team during her time at BFS.
“Back then, the school was so small, if you could breathe, you could make the team,” said Susan.
So much has changed at BFS since Susan attended. For example, her senior class of 25 students had the same teachers in a subject for four years, there were no dedicated arts or dance programs, and there was only one science lab that had to be shared schoolwide, among many other changes. But despite the evolution and growth of BFS, Susan says there is much that remains.
“I came to BFS as a curious person and BFS fostered that curiosity which they still do for students today,” says Susan. “What has always remained is a standard of excellence. BFS echoed the values I learned at home and left me with the idea that no matter what I do, I should do it as well as I can do it.”
In addition to sports, Susan was involved in all aspects of school including serving as Editor of BFS Newspaper, The Life.
“BFS allowed me to be involved in so many things. I feel that I graduated as a well-rounded individual.”
A BFS Lesson Sparks a Career
Following BFS, Susan graduated from Radcliffe College (a renowned women’s college that later merged with Harvard), and began a remarkable and decorated legal career. For over 40 years, Susan worked at the Vera Institute of Justice as Special Counsel and Secretary of the Corporation. Among her many duties, Susan did legal work for the corporation and its demonstration projects, including Job Path (employment and other services for developmentally disabled people), the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (legal representation for indigent defendants), the Center for Employment Opportunities (employment and job placement for parolees and prisoners on work release), and the Immigration and Naturalization Appearance Assistance Project.
Susan says her love for the legal profession began in tenth grade when BFS history teacher, Harold Vaughn, introduced the landmark Supreme Court case Marbury vs. Madison which established the principle of judicial review in the United States.
“Mr. Vaughn was a wonderful teacher who really challenged us. When he taught us about the case–which has a great backstory and a lot of intrigue–I said, ‘the law is for me.’ It really clinched it for me. I just love the impact you could have on society in this profession and that particular assignment sparked it for me,” recalls Susan.
Carrying Quaker Values Forward
Over 60 years since graduating, Susan is returning to BFS for this year’s Commencement as the recipient of the prestigious George Fox Award honoring an individual who has made exemplary contributions to the community while demonstrating the Quaker values that were fostered during their time at BFS.
“All honorees say they’re honored, but I am truly honored because of the meaning of this award. The award is for living a life consonant with Quaker values and I can’t imagine a better compliment—a better statement about my life that I have lived it in accordance with Quaker values,” says Susan.
Raised Jewish, Susan says she saw a lot of similarities between Judaism and Quakerism when she attended.
“BFS, along with my parents, reinforced the idea that your function in the world is to do good. Your purpose is to repair the world which is both a Quaker value and a Jewish value. Being a lawyer was my way of making my contribution to the world in order to improve society,” says Susan.
Susan says Quakerism affected her not just through curriculum, but through the ways the values were shown to her through action by teachers and classmates. She says, in addition to the Monthly Meeting and the School’s commitment to servicing the community, the small things made an impact, from who was praised in class to how leaders showed respect for individuals. While attending Radcliffe College, Susan immediately sought out the Quaker Meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts to stay connected.
“The Quaker Meeting provided a sense of calm and a space to be introspective. To think back and forward,” she says.
A Sneak Peek at Susan’s Commencement Speech
Susan says she is excited to be addressing the class of 2021 during this year’s Commencement Ceremony. While she didn’t want to give too much away before the big event, she says one aspect of her speech will center around embracing who you are.
“Some of us are interested in one specific focus and others have many curiosities and interests. My goal is to express that no matter what category you fall into, you should never regret those traits. Accept who you are, and live your life accordingly,” says Susan.