Lawrence Fisher was nominated by an anonymous colleague.
Mr. Fisher is a bit of a storyteller. As he tells it, the story of his career began as a Central Michigan University student. In his first year of college, he became quite ill and required extended hospitalization. During that hospital stay, he fondly remembers how his dorm’s RA was the only student who came to visit him. In an effort to follow in his footsteps, he made a commitment to become a professional school counselor -- so he could be there for people who needed it most.
Mr. Fisher is somewhat famous in West Michigan educational circles for being a phenomenal school counselor, a transformative coach, and a passionate school leader. At the end of his 40th year in education, he can name the graduation years of thousands of former students, tell you what kind of mischief they got into, and tell you what their parents were like when they were students. Upon entering the school building, he’ll be quick to shake your hand, make your acquaintance, and crack a quick joke. Before you know it, you’ll be learning about the time a former student earned his private pilot’s license before he learned to drive, or how a former student chose to wear his school uniform for every day of virtual learning, even though it wasn’t required.
Mr. Fisher is quick to draw in even the most reclusive student. He is constantly in search of someone whose day he can brighten. With his firm handshake and a wink, he can sneakily slide some chocolate from one hand to another in the crowded hallways. For students who have demonstrated outstanding character or service, a tradition of $2 bills rewards their unique contributions to their school. In the simplest of ways, Mr. Fisher engages with each student on campus, assigning nicknames, developing inside jokes, learning backstories, and making sure that no student eats lunch alone.
Beyond these simple interactions, Mr. Fisher has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to individual students. He has a way of learning hard news and showing up at exactly the right time. He is known for appearing at students’ family funerals. Mr. Fisher has testified as a character witness in students’ defense at deportation hearings. During the COVID-19 pandemic and at risk to himself, he personally helped ensure food security by delivering meals to students’ homes. He does these things with a smile.
Through these frequent and intentional engagements, Mr. Fisher is able to build trusting relationships with the students he serves, culminating in a school culture that permeates the entire building. He is a warm demander of students, calling on each to act as “Ladies and Gentlemen,” and his students are proud to live up to those expectations. It is by his example that students shake hands with guests, demonstrate professionalism in both dress and manner, and take it upon themselves to name and eliminate bullying behaviors at school. When students falter, he is often one of the first people to know, as he has taught them to own their mistakes, to be honest, and to care. He is known for turning discipline problems into learning opportunities.
One of the most powerful moments of Mr. Fisher's career occurred when he was a cross country coach. One season, his team took on a runner who wanted to meet personal fitness goals more than he wanted to compete. This was a student who did not identify as an athlete, nor had he ever competed in any high school sport. He would be running alongside a team that regularly sends runners to the state finals. When he began the season, his initial mile time was over twenty minutes. While his season began by only attending practices, Coach Fisher eventually talked this young man into competing, to be proud of his consistent trend of setting PR’s (personal records), and to not worry about where he finished in the line-up. Each race that season, as his team members finished ahead of him, they would each circle back on the track to find their teammate. One-by-one, they would line up behind him so that when he crossed each finish line, he had his entire team at his back. Coach Fisher ensured that each of his runners got the audience they deserved when they came to the end of their own race.
In fact, before Mr. Fisher, West Michigan Aviation Academy (WMAA) did not have any official extracurricular activities for students to participate in. His vision for finding opportunities to get young people involved, along with his belief that running is a metaphor for hard work and character development, brought cross country to the school. He takes that metaphor seriously. Mr. Fisher models commitment through the simple fact that he has not missed a day of distance running for 35 years. He has logged enough miles to circle the globe several times over, and he keeps a book that memorializes every person he has ever run with. It's this type of commitment that inspires others across his career. He walks his talk consistently and with dedication, and he is always inviting others to follow him on that path.
After a full career as a counselor, Mr. Fisher transitioned into school leadership. He has served WMAA for the past 11 years as a Dean and as Interim CEO. He has helped build a school from the ground up, providing exceptional learning opportunities to young people. While the school provides unique academic opportunities to students, Mr. Fisher has helped keep the school’s vision focused on the most important things: character development, citizenship, and service. The school’s graduation requirement of 100 hours of community service can be traced back to him. He established student expectations for professional dress with WMAA’s student dress code. Most importantly, he built a student culture based on handshakes, eye contact, honesty, and common courtesy that has become the hallmark of the school. When alumni return to WMAA each year, this is the part of their education that they remember most colorfully and that they attribute most to their success.
As a leader, Mr. Fisher has been a proven model for others to follow, and no job is beneath him. He's well-known for coming to school on Saturdays to inspect the site. He can be found picking up trash and wiping windows in order to show students the best school he can. Without a doubt, he's the reason why students can be found picking up after themselves and others, following his example to keep the school a place people want to be in. In his own words, Mr. Fisher is an “enabler." He finds ways to help others be successful in the work that they do. Little things, like swapping out a teacher’s lunch duty to help them get ahead in planning, or pushing around a refreshment cart during Parent-Teacher Conferences, become big things when done consistently for the team over time. After a hard day, a teacher can predict Mr. Fisher will be waiting for them in their classroom with a “mentor moment” to build them back up. In these ways, he has kept his school counselor mindset with him in leadership, saying “I try to lead when it's appropriate, but I try to be of service always.”
"This year, when Larry retires from 40 years of civil service in education, we wish to recognize him as a LifeChanger in honor of a career of being there for others," said the nominator. "Larry is not a LifeChanger because he had a single groundbreaking moment or had a one-off radical idea about how to 'do' education in a new way. Larry is a LifeChanger because he has spent an entire lifetime changing lives in education. Across his career, Larry has dedicated himself to showing up for those in need and to serving for the greater good."