Ryan Ruskin ’90 pursues his passions with purpose

Ryan Ruskin, wearing his class jacket, in front of Maclean House

Photo by Andrea Kane

Ryan Ruskin ’90 fell in love with Princeton during a 1985 campus tour and has remained deeply involved with the University for nearly four decades. “It’s hard to describe that feeling of being in the right place,” he said. “Though I didn’t know at the time just how deep-rooted my relationship with Princeton would become.”

In retrospect, he said, Princeton felt like it had the right balance between tradition and opportunity: “It wasn’t an institution that had discarded its past, but it also wasn’t stuck in it.” Ruskin recalled other schools he had toured that felt too homogeneous and lacking in the richness he knew he needed in order to find his place. 

“As a junior in high school, I felt like I knew everything,” he said. At Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh, Ruskin founded the debate society, was involved in theater productions, ran cross country and anchored the ice hockey team. “I had myriad interests and no idea of what I wanted to do,” he said. 

What he did know, however, was that he didn’t want to go to a university that didn’t allow him the flexibility to explore all his interests and more. “Princeton gave me opportunities I didn’t know were possible,” he said. Those opportunities included getting involved with the sailing team and the Program in Theater and Dance during his time on campus. 

Ruskin has remained connected to Princeton by volunteering with the Princeton Club of Chicago, where he eventually served as president from 2011 to 2013. “Through these activities, I’ve met the next generation of Princetonians in Chicago and love having the opportunity to pay it forward and back all at the same time,” he said. 

His tenure as president led to the Alumni Council regional and Ad Hoc Portraiture Nominations Committee, and then the Committee to Nominate Alumni Trustees and the Committee on Awards for Service to Princeton, which he chaired. “There is a thread in my Princeton volunteer work of engaging with and celebrating alumni who have done and continue to do amazing things,” said Ruskin, who is inspired by the many Princetonians who do more than they seem to have the capacity to do in all aspects of their life. “There aren’t many institutions that embody the spirit of service the way we can.” 

On July 1, Ruskin stepped forward to volunteer again, this time as vice chair of the Alumni Council and vice president of the Alumni Association alongside chair and president Monica Moore Thompson ’89. “I formed a close bond with Monica when we worked together on another committee,” he said, adding that he’s excited to be working with her over the next two years to support the alumni population as it continues to grow. 

Ruskin’s commitment to responsible growth extends beyond volunteer work. As the president and CEO of the Ruskin Group, the 130-year-old packaging company founded by his great-great-grandfather, he has ramped up sustainable practices. Along with adopting a circular supply chain that maximizes the reuse of materials, the company uses recyclable materials and biodegradable plastics to reduce waste. “In transforming this company into a sustainability leader, I took a cue from how Princeton never discarded its past as it sought to address modern concerns,” Ruskin said. “Our sustainable packaging embraces the traditions of this family business while addressing the need to deal with the new ecommerce reality of shipping huge volumes of packages directly to homes.” 

Ruskin’s time at Princeton also taught him to actively engage in his community. “That’s what we did every day on campus,” he said. “And when we saw an unaddressed need, we founded a new organization, which is something I still do today.” Case in point: Ruskin co-founded the Chicago Gay Hockey Association to create a place for LGBTQ players to play in hockey leagues throughout Chicago. “When we started the association, we fielded a single team to play in the other leagues,” he said. “Now we have become a successful part of several men’s hockey leagues and the LGBTQ sports community in Chicago, including hosting an annual tournament for teams across the country.” 

Off the ice, Ruskin has served on the boards of nonprofits such as the Heartland Alliance, Chicago Botanic Garden, Goodman Theatre, the Chicago Humanities Festival and the Field Museum. “My civic and philanthropic volunteer work goes directly back to being encouraged to participate and pursue my passions and interests while on campus,” he said. “And they’ve developed into lifelong passions and interests in and out of my professional life.” 

Ruskin likes to tell prospective students that Princeton forms life-long connections that touch many different aspects of their lives. “There are so many opportunities to engage with the University community, whether through your class, your region, on-campus activities or affinity groups — all are invaluable,” he said. “So much of what I’ve developed an interest in or been a part of came about through a Princeton experience or relationship. As we’ve said through some of our Alumni Council slogans, we are all Princeton and Princeton is everywhere you are.”