From Immigrant Roots to Legal Leadership

Andre Desir ‘16



Andre Desir
From Immigrant Roots to Legal Leadership: Andre Desir ‘16

Andre Desir ‘16, who was born to immigrant parents from Haiti and Canada, initially undervalued a college education. Desir's decision to attend CCNY and join the Colin Powell School was deeply influenced by his father's educational legacy and the allure of CCNY’s diverse programs and vibrant community. Motivated by a desire for maximum agency in navigating life, he recognized education as the key to a better future. At CCNY, Desir participated in the Skadden Arps Program (now the Honors Program in Legal Studies), which provided invaluable resources and support on his path to becoming an attorney.

Where are you from and what is your background story? Please share your details from the period before you arrived at CCNY.

I am a first generation (attorney) from Queens, New York, born to parents who immigrated to America — NYC — from Haiti (father) and Canada (mom). I enrolled at BMCC at 21 years old as a late bloomer and someone who didn't (at the time) value a college education. My father attended the City College of New York from which he graduated with a degree in Economics. After getting my associate degree from BMCC, commuting to the other end of Manhattan seemed to me at the time to be my birthright. Prior to starting CCNY in the Fall of 2013, I got real world experience by working odd jobs in and around NYC at places like JCPenny, Macy's, and Chase.

What brought you to CCNY and to the Colin Powell School?

My father attending CCNY and his presence as an educated black man in America inspired me to continue the tradition. The Colin Powell School was alluring because of the various programs (such as Semester in DC), the wonderfully brilliant, opinionated folks who were part of the program, and the general civic engagement, such as registering folks to vote, inviting elected officials to campus, etc. 

What is your passion or purpose behind pursuing what you did at City College?

I always wanted maximum agency while moving through the world, and I somehow understood for a poor black man in America that education was my key to a better, more impactful life, where I would have agency in the direction of my life and what I could offer others. While at City College, I joined the Skadden Arps Legal Education Program to give me the resources of making my dream come true, the dream of becoming an attorney. CCNY provided me clarity on what was a black box to me. CCNY also exposed me to alternative ways of learning and thinking, and my fellowship aligned me with engineers, doctors, and artists. I got to improve my processes and ways of viewing the world by supplementing my values and morals with those who are different to me. 

Briefly, how has your career unfolded? How did City College and/or the Colin Powell School help you to get where you are in your career?

Skadden paid for my LSAT, for my law school applications, they provided me with test prep, and more important than anything, they made me believe that it was possible. After CCNY, I worked for a year as a campaign director for a super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton for president. The reason I applied for this job was because of the hubris and pride instilled in me during my time at CCNY. By being surrounded by leaders, activists, and other brilliant students, I was confident that I could take on tall orders, and fulfill them with grace.  In the Fall of 2017, I enrolled at Villanova Law school where in the spring of 2020 I graduated with my Juris Doctor, with honors, And in spring of 2022 I was sworn into the bar of Pennsylvania as an attorney and counselor at law. I was lucky to be selected as a law clerk for two brilliant state court judges from 2022-23, and now I work for a financial firm as an estate planner. 

Do you have any significant memories or accomplishments from your career or time at City College / Colin Powell School that you would like to share?

I was elected vice president of student government where I learned Robert's Rules of Order, the gridlock and bureaucracy inherent in any governing organization, and was inspired to read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. As a campus leader I felt responsible for others and began to understand the importance and weight of representing others. I also got to meet General Powell during the fellowships trip to D.C.: meeting one of the titans of the world before his passing will be a memory I forever cherish. During my time at CCNY, I joined Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, and made lifeline friends and connections (who joined my lifelong board of directors) and learned the subtle art of diplomacy and being responsible to others. In the Partners for Change fellowship my cohort put on a conference and facilitated a conversation about higher education and invited distinguished folks to campus. 

What advice would you give to current students or recent graduates majoring in your field of study?

During some of the most difficult periods of my life, I found the mesmerizing words of Winston Churchill returned to me, and I offer those words to you so that they too might offer you the same confidence and comfort. In 1941, Churchill delivered a speech, at an institution of learning no less, in the face of the mounting German war machine and reminded the world to: "never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense" Those words have reminded me many times to never give up.

What are your future aspirations for your career?

I plan to open my own law firm and to choose which cases I take and who I help.

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