Two extraordinary individuals —one a former All-Star NBA player, now an accomplished poet, author and teacher; and the other, a successful social entrepreneur who uses technology to change the world — will address undergraduate and graduate students at the149th Commencement Ceremonies of Saint Mary's College of California.
Tom Meschery, `61, Bay Area basketball legend, poet, educator and Saint Mary’s alumnus, will deliver the commencement address for the College’s undergraduates. Jim Fruchterman, a former rocket scientist and CEO and founder of the innovative nonprofit Benetech, which uses technology to address social needs, will offer the Commencement address to Saint Mary’s graduate students.
An expected 500 students will receive their diplomas at the Undergraduate Commencement on Saturday, May 19, 2012, at 9:30 a.m. at SMC Stadium. An estimated 400 students will receive diplomas the following Sunday, May 20, 2012, at 4 p.m. at the Graduate and Professional Programs Commencement at SMC Stadium.
Tom Meschery, Poet and Bay Area Sports Legend
As a youngster growing up in San Francisco, Tom Meschery fell in love with basketball and became an All-American high school standout. A 6-foot-6 power forward, Meschery’s stellar ability as a hoopster was showcased when he played for Saint Mary's from 1957–1961. He was a member of the Gaels’ 1958 NCAA Championship Tournament “Elite 8” team, led the College in rebounds for almost 30 years and was recognized as the Saint Mary’s Basketball Player of the Century.
Meschery played 10 seasons, from 1961 to 1971, in the NBA, with the Golden State Warriors and the Seattle Supersonics. He coached in the American Basketball Association, was an assistant coach in the National Basketball Association and was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. Meschery is also the first player in Warrior’s history to have his jersey (No.14) retired.
While Meschery’s athletic journey has been remarkable, so too was his intellectual journey. Born in Manchuria, China to Russian immigrants in 1938, his early years were framed by the realities of World War II. His family spent time in a Japanese concentration camp; an experience, ironically, that would also lead him to Saint Mary’s. “My mother, sister and I were befriended, and cared for in the early months of the war, by Christian Brothers. This was one of the reasons I chose to attend Saint Mary's,” said Meschery. Another reason was the College’s liberal arts curriculum where, because of a love of poetry gained from his parents, Meschery found a perfect fit.
In addition to the “Mad Russian,” a NBA nickname he garnered for his on-court toughness, his teammates also referred to him as the “Renaissance Man,” for his appreciation of poetry. That interest eventually led Meschery to step away from the hardcourt to pursue a graduate degree in literature. He received a Master of Fine Arts degree from University of Iowa in 1974.
In his address, the noted Saint Mary’s alumnus said he will emphasize the importance of creativity and appreciation for the literary arts, especially poetry, to the College’s class of 2012. “Regardless of whatever field they have chosen, an appreciation of poetry, fiction, drama and related subjects develops creativity, and that leads everyone, including scientists and mathematicians, to think outside boundaries and change or enhance the world we live in,” said Meschery.
A notable poet and acknowledged educator, Meschery is the author of two books of poetry, “Over the Rim” and “Nothing You Lose Can Be Replaced.” A forthcoming book, “Some Men” will be published in fall 2012. He was inducted into the Nevada State Writers' Hall of Fame in 2000 and has received the U.S. Presidential Scholars Teacher Recognition Award four times over 20 years as a high school English teacher.
Jim Fruchterman,Technologist for Social Change
Technologist and social entrepreneur Jim Fruchterman believes in technology for the greater good. He is the CEO and founder of Benetech, an innovative non-profit with an explicit goal of using the power of technology to serve humanity.
A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (popularly referred to as the Genius Award) and a former rocket scientist, Fruchterman established two of the foremost optical character recognition companies in the nation. Calera Recognition Systems, co-founded by Fruchterman in 1982, developed technology allowing computers to read virtually all printed text. Another Fruchterman enterprise, Arkenstone, produced software and technology devices that enabled printed materials to be accessible to the blind.
Benetech's impressive social change technology initiatives include the world's largest accessible digital library for people with disabilities like blindness and severe dyslexia; a web-based program to assist those teaching teens and adults with developmental disabilities how to read and write, science and information technology tools for capturing stories of human rights violations and protecting human rights advocates and project management tools for environmentalist to effectively reach their conservation goals. Benetech received the prestigious Skoll Award for social entrepreneurship under his leadership.
"I'm an advance scout for social applications,” says Fruchterman. “I find exciting technology waiting to be turned into non-commercial tools for disadvantaged groups."
Fruchterman said the social justice mission of Saint Mary’s College resonates with the goals of Benetech, and he hopes to challenge the class of 2012 to take new approaches to solving long-standing social problems. “I think in the current era there is an inner desire among more young people to perform work that matters, and to make a difference in their professional lives," he said.
He also believes the current generation of college students is the most motivated cohort of students for social change since the 1960s. “And as these new graduates head out into the world, I want to encourage them to seek ways to advance social justice and not accept an unjust status quo.”
Fruchterman's commitment to technology as an instrument to create a more equitable society has led to public service and many significant awards. In addition to serving on three federal advisory committees concerning technology access for people with disabilities, he received the Robert F. Bray Award from the American Council of the Blind and was named an Outstanding Social Entrepreneur by the Schwab Foundation in 2003. Fruchterman was honored with a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006.
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