After more than 50 years, Bob Fitch walked across the graduation stage this May to receive his Rochester Institute of Technology diploma.
The 81-year-old was surrounded by family and loved ones as he was handed an applied arts and sciences diploma from RIT’s School of Individualized Study. The school was able to award the 24-credit diploma based on classes he took more than 50 years ago.
Fitch began college in 1959, when RIT’s campus was located in downtown Rochester. Always loving to work with his hands, he decided to take courses on designing and building furniture in RIT’s School for American Crafts. But in 1962 he was unable to complete his degree due to family obligations.
“I lacked one more course to graduate,” Fitch said.
Fitch established his own construction company in Rochester, doing projects for Hillside Children’s Center, local schools and even RIT, over the span of nearly 17 years. He renovated the interior of the RIT president’s office, installing oak doors and frames. In the Eastman building, he remembers adding oak walls and ceilings to the foyer and elevator area.
After retiring, he moved to Florida, where he bought and ran a marina, built a 25-foot sport fisherman boat from scratch and became acquainted with wood carving.
It was then that his nephew contacted RIT about Fitch’s time there and possibly securing a diploma.
“It was easy for SOIS to do something like this because Bob earned it,” said Abby Cantwell, assistant director of RIT’s School of Individualized Study. “He put a lot of time and energy into taking those courses and we are glad that we can use the individualized diploma to help him receive a RIT credential.”
At Fitch’s 80th birthday celebration in Rochester, he was surprised with a certificate, hand-delivered by Howard Ward, associate vice president for Student Auxiliary Services.
RIT’s School of Individualized Study offers customizable degree programs. In addition, the school is helping non-completers come back to college and finish a degree.
“SOIS is committed to helping students earn a diploma or degree from RIT — whether it be with classes from five or 50 years ago,” said Cantwell. “We are proud to help students finish what they started.”
“I was so completely overwhelmed with all that was done for me, which is closing a chapter on my life but opening another chapter with the gratitude, appreciation and efforts that so many people have put forth to help me get to this amazing experience,” said Fitch.