Purple Heart Recipient Richard Fisher Named City Tech’s 2012 Valedictorian

Fisher in wood shop at Brooklyn Technical High School. Photo credit: Michele Forsten

Brooklyn, NY — One might think that Richard Fisher chose a circuitous path to a college degree and academic achievement. But it ended up working out just fine for him, as he has been named New York City College of Technology’s (City Tech’s) 2012 Valedictorian.

Graduating with a 3.968 grade point average, Fisher did not excel academically in high school. In fact, his average was in the high seventies. “I had to go to summer school once in middle school and once in high school, both for math; I just wasn’t applying myself,” he notes, “I also had to take chemistry twice because I failed it the first time.”

Fisher during two-week stretch of active duty in Gulfport, MS, 2012. Photo credit: Ryan G. Wilber

Fisher grew up in Colonie, a suburb of Albany in upstate New York. “I’m the youngest of five and the only one to join the military,” says Fisher, who now lives in Astoria, Queens. “I saw my parents spending their money to send my brothers and sisters to college, and I wanted to do it differently.”

Knowing he didn’t want to go straight to college, he chose to enlist in the Navy in April of his senior year of high school. He had a year between enlistment and activation, during which he chose to work “three or four” different jobs. These included a full-time position with a construction firm, and part-time work with the volunteer fire department and a retail store at the local mall. “My friends were away at college, and I decided to just work and work and work.” Sometimes that meant seven days a week.

Once Fisher was activated, he was assigned to the Seabees as a carpenter (with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133). Right before being deployed to Iraq in 2005, he was stationed in Gulfport, Mississippi, an hour’s drive from New Orleans and just a mile from the coast. He was there when Hurricane Katrina hit, and much of his base was badly damaged. Fisher’s unit helped clear downed trees and other storm debris, set up temporary quarters for service members’ families inside concrete warehouses being used as storm shelters and constructed showers for these facilities.

Fisher (far right) in Iraq in 2005.

Fisher had been in Iraq only four months before he was wounded by a mortar shell explosion on February 20, 2006. “The hardest thing about being hurt was the phone call home to tell my parents,” he says. His father had served in the army and supported his son’s decision to join the military; his mother, on the other hand, initially wasn’t all that keen on it. At the age of 19, he was awarded the Purple Heart.

Fisher, now 25 and in the Naval Reserves, has learned that to succeed, one has to work hard and be determined. He started at the lowest rank in the military and worked his way up to first-class petty officer. “Before I knew it, I was mentor to other sailors,” he notes. “I came to see that no matter what your field is, there will always be someone to learn from and someone to teach.

“I think becoming a teacher was always in the back of my mind,” he continues. “When I applied to CUNY, I applied to Queens College for social studies education because I love history, and City Tech for technology education.  The deciding factor was that I heard back from City Tech first!”

Now graduating with a BS degree in technology teacher education, Fisher wonders if he didn’t always know where his path would lead him. “I had taken a number of construction and wood shop courses in junior high and high school. My dad was very handy and had shop-like equipment that I was exposed to at a young age. I’ve always been around woodworking and liked it.”

In high school, Fisher’s mentor was his technology teacher, Tom Casey, also a former Navy Seabee.  Fisher, whose older brother is also a technology teacher, eventually realized he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his mentor and brother.

“It was the right decision,” he adds. “I really love living in the city and everyone at City Tech has been very supportive.” When he first started at City Tech, he had another challenge to face. “I was used to the structured lifestyle of the military, and it was difficult at first to adapt; I had to learn time management.”

At City Tech, where he made the Dean’s List each semester and is receiving the Robin Kazer Memorial Award for Excellence in Technology Education, he was surprised by the diversity of backgrounds of the students and professors. “I’ve met terrific professors and students from all over,” he says.

“This semester, I’ve been student teaching at Brooklyn Technical High School, and I’m finding the same cultures represented in the classroom there as at City Tech. I feel very comfortable with everyone,” he adds. “I’m amazed how much I’ve learned from the students at Brooklyn Tech. I plan to never stop learning or teaching.”

Fisher’s current plans are to further his dual career as an educator and as a military officer. He expects to teach high school in the fall, while taking evening courses towards a master’s degree in education. His goals also include pursuing a commission to continue his military career as an officer.

But before he sets those plans into gear, he will be delivering the valedictory address at City Tech’s commencement on Monday, June 4, 11:30 a.m., at the Javits Center in Manhattan.

“My mom always told me that she could live with me not being a good student, even though she knew I could have done better when I was younger,” he remarks. “What mattered most to her was that I treated everyone with respect and lived by the morals that she and my dad taught me. I can see very clearly now that you can go far in life if you just work hard and be a good person.”

New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York (CUNY) is the largest public college of technology in New York State. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, the College enrolls more than 16,000 students in 62 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs.