Two fascinating leaders — SMC basketball legend, poet and educator Thomas Meschery ’61 and Benetech founder Jim Fruchterman shared life lessons with the audience at Saint Mary’s commencement ceremonies this year.

Meschery addressed the largest class of graduating seniors in College history — 684 students — on May 19. He played for the Gaels’ 1958 – 59 “Elite Eight” team and went on to a career in the NBA. There, he earned the nickname “The Mad Russian” for his assertive play, but his teammates also knew him as “Renaissance man” for his love of poetry.  After 10 years, he changed course and devoted the rest of his life to poetry and teaching, winning the U.S. Presidential Scholars Teacher Recognition Award four times.

“Sport has sustained my life, teaching has inspired my life, and poetry has nurtured my life,” he said, as he advised the students to embrace their creativity in everything they do.

The next day, Fruchterman surprised the 456 students at the graduate and professional programs commencement by advising them to embrace the power of failure, as well as the power of personal networks and karma. “When you succeed, it’s not always clear if you were lucky, or smart, or just worked hard. But failure teaches real lessons,” he explained.

Fruchterman’s first career as a rocket scientist ended when a rocket he helped design blew up. He went on to create seven high-tech companies, five of which failed. But he kept pushing boundaries and finally hit on his life’s mission when he founded Benetech, a groundbreaking nonprofit company that develops “technology to benefit all of humanity, not just the richest 10 percent.”

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