John Raitt P ’12: Bringing opportunities closer

Opportunity funds help Oles access high-impact learning experiences and resources on the Hill. The Raitt Family Opportunity Fund, established by Regent John Raitt P ’12 and his family, especially helps first-generation students from Chicago like Noemi Guzman ’19 to succeed at St. Olaf.

St. Olaf Regent John Raitt P '12
St. Olaf Regent John Raitt P ’12

A retired partner, president and CEO of a Chicago investment firm, St. Olaf regent John Raitt is acutely aware that not everyone has the same advantages that he did growing up in Minnesota.

It’s one of the reasons why John and his family established the Raitt Family Opportunity Fund, an endowed resource helping Chicago students from under-resourced communities successfully transition to and access opportunities for personal and professional development on the Hill.

“I went to a strong high school; my parents sent me to a very good college,” Raitt says. “My education gave me the tools to have a very successful career. In order to have a fair economic system — and I’m trained in economics — everyone has to have a shot at a good education. That’s what levels the playing field and gives individuals the opportunity to get a leg up in life.”

“In order to have a fair economic system everyone has to have a shot at a good education. That’s what levels the playing field and gives individuals the opportunity to get a leg up in life.”

Yet when Raitt moved to Chicago in the mid-1980s, he saw a broad opportunity gap — the city’s public school system was failing to help kids in some of the poorest neighborhoods doubly disadvantaged by under-resourced schools. Determined to help, Raitt first worked in the public system, then joined the board at Holy Trinity High School, a private West Side school with a 100 percent graduation and college acceptance rate and a population that is 84 percent African American and Latino. He also supported a recruiting effort to help first-generation Chicago students working with a half dozen nonprofits like the Posse Foundation get into good schools, including St. Olaf.

For recipient Noemi Guzman ’19, the Raitt Opportunity Fund has enabled both her academic study and her personal growth. “If it wasn’t for the financial aid that St. Olaf gave me, I would not be here,” she says.

“I have a real strong interest in seeing the college continue to grow,” Raitt says. A number of his friends and cousins are Oles, and his daughter Carolyn graduated in 2012. “Part of the reason St. Olaf has been so successful is its welcoming nature. It helped me to see how enthusiastically the college has gone into recruiting a diverse group of kids. It will be a stronger college longer term because of this focus.”