The first day of the year is a particularly special day in Pasadena. For more than a century, floats constructed of rainbow rose petals and other natural materials have been paraded through the streets in celebration of New Year’s Day. Last year alone, 28 million Americans tuned in to ESPN’s coverage of the Rose Bowl game — the Rose Parade’s grand finale.
Behind the scenes and on the sidelines, yet seemingly at the center of it all, you’ll find Clemson alumna Karen Sunshine — special events manager for Disney, founder of her own event planning company and full-time mom to three kids and a pup named Pawley.
Although Sunshine grew up in Southern California, she credits her bright career in the hospitality industry to the Southern hospitality she experienced at Clemson.
After completing her undergraduate degree, Sunshine applied to volunteer for the Tournament of Roses — it was perfect opportunity for a new grad (and avid football fan) to get started in the event business.
But her application was denied.
In the wake of rejection, Clemson’s Death Valley became a spontaneous destination. While flipping through the game program in Memorial Stadium, Sunshine saw an advertisement for the University’s parks, recreation and tourism management graduate degree.
“The rest is history,” she said.
Despite the stress of coordinating high-caliber events, she finds reward in giving others an unforgettable experience — and sharing those stories. During Clemson’s Homecoming week, Sunshine traveled to Clemson to share her career experiences and offer advice to current students.
“When you put on an event, you should always walk away with a jewel of a story,” she said.
In her 20-year career, Sunshine has more than a few gems — from riding on the team bus with the MLB champions to zip lining above the rainforest at a tropical Disney resort. And it’s all part of the job description.
“I get to do things for work that I wouldn’t normally get to do,” she said. “I wouldn’t have had all this fun if it weren’t for Clemson.”