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posted: 10/24/2012 1:24 PM

Honored Viator alumni talk about inspiration — and detention

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  • Distinguished Alumni Jim Fruchterman, St. Viator class of 1976, speaks with Viator students.

    Distinguished Alumni Jim Fruchterman, St. Viator class of 1976, speaks with Viator students.
    Courtesy of Saint Viator High School

Submitted by Saint Viator High School

Saint Viator students got a powerful wake-up call Monday, Oct. 22, with some advice from a rocket scientist and a glaucoma specialist.

Members of the Querbes Scholars and the school's Presidents' Association met with Dr. Mildred Olivier, Sacred Heart of Mary class of 1978, and Jim Fruchterman, Saint Viator class of 1976.

They are the first two people to be named "Distinguished Alumni" of the schools, and they were introduced to families and alumni during a special Mass Sunday, Oct. 21, on the feast of Saint Viator. They met with students the following morning.

Fruchterman and Olivier had very different high school experiences, they told students. Olivier knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a physician, and her leadership qualities bloomed at Sacred Heart.

Fruchterman spent every Saturday in detention at Saint Viator.

They both had inspirational words for the students, though: Look for a mentor. Teach others. Follow your passion. Stay open to the possibilities. Try to make a difference where there is injustice, one person at a time. Olivier practices ophthalmology in Hoffman Estates and in Chicago, and serves on the faculty of the Olympia Fields Osteopathic Medical Center and Cook County Hospital.

But her real calling is to help the people of Haiti -- her parents' homeland -- where she has returned each year since 1993. She works to eradicate preventable blindness through the treatment of glaucoma.

"The values and ethics I learned at Sacred Heart have been absolutely vital to my career," Olivier said. "I realize that now, coming back here, what came out of my experiences here."

Fruchterman was a "hard-core nerd" as a freshman, he said, with taped, horn-rimmed glasses and a calculator held firmly in a holster on his belt.

His leisure time was spent reading science fiction novels -- on average, one a day -- and he went on to become a rocket engineer after attending California Polytechnic State University. By Silicon Valley standards, he was a success.

"When I came to Saint Viator, I met priests who combined a love of math and science with a life of service," Fruchterman said. "That was a turning point."

He eventually formed a nonprofit company, Benetech, dedicated to developing technology for people with disabilities. One of the company's first innovations was to develop reading machines for the blind. Benetech is also responsible for Bookshare, the world's largest accessible online library for people with vision impairments.

Fruchterman now lectures at universities on the power of pairing social innovation with service.

"The Viatorians kept pushing me away from the standard Silicon Valley script," Fruchterman said. "Everything we do is about making the power of information accessible and bringing it to underserved communities."

The Rev. Robert M. Egan, C.S.V., Saint Viator's president, said the idea of honoring distinguished alumni came up last year during the school's 50th anniversary celebrations.

"This new hall of fame allows us to recognize and celebrate the real service and distinct contributions that our alumni make, not only to our community and our country," Egan said, "but literally around the world."

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