WINNETKA – More than 53 years after a summer school course made him a graduate of New Trier, Dr. Mark Olsky returned to his alma mater to claim the diploma he never received.
Olsky’s path back to New Trier began with his appearance on a television program, where he discussed his birth on a train headed from one concentration camp to another near the end of World War II. He and his mother, along with her sisters, survived the journey, and the camp was liberated by U.S. soldiers just weeks later.
Former New Trier West Principal David Cox, who had been Olsky’s physics teacher, recognized him immediately and asked New Trier’s Alumni Association for help in contacting him. He discovered that Olsky never received a diploma because he left New Trier after three years to attend the University of Illinois. However, his records indicated that he took a summer school course that gave him enough credits to graduate, and his transcript was marked with a graduation date of Aug. 10, 1962.
On Monday, Sept. 21, Olsky finally received his diploma at the New Trier Board of Education meeting, thanks to the efforts of Cox and current Winnetka Campus Principal Denise Dubravec.
“This is truly just a wonderful, wonderful honor,” Olsky said. “The fact that one of my teachers after all these years saw my name and recognized it … that to me is something practically miraculous.”
Olsky left the University of Illinois after three years as well – never receiving a diploma there, either – to enter medical school at Northwestern University. He has spent his career as an emergency room physician and now lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Olksy lost his father and many relatives on both sides of his family during the Holocaust. After living in Europe and Israel, his mother and stepfather relocated the family to Glencoe, where they opened a successful jewelry store that still bears the family’s name, Olsky Jewelers.
He knew virtually no English when he came to New Trier and called his New Trier adviser, Jack Gerol, a “second parent” during his high school years. Gerol came to see Olsky receive his diploma.
“My teachers were absolutely wonderful,” Olsky said. “Mr. Gerol was absolutely a second parent after my regular parents. He was worried about me and about if my experience was going well, as well as it could. Mr. Cox as a physics teacher was absolutely wonderful. I really can’t think of a class that wasn’t great.”
Dubravec noted how much of an impression Olsky had made on Cox even 50 years later.
“I think this story really tells you about the bond and relationships that our teachers have with their students,” she said.
In addition to coming to the Board of Education meeting, Olsky met with AP Political Science students earlier in the day to share his experiences.
New Trier Township High School District 203 serves Chicago’s North Shore suburban communities of Glencoe, Kenilworth, Wilmette and Winnetka, most of Northfield and parts of Glenview and Northbrook.