Student Commencement Address 2016

Hunter Mayton A'16 and Andy Overton A'16 deliver the student address. Photo by Island Photography/The Cooper Union

Hunter Mayton A'16 and Andy Overton A'16 deliver the student address. Photo by Island Photography/The Cooper Union

On May 24, 2016 the student address was delivered by Hunter Mayton A'16 and Andy Overton A'16, using a text co-authored by them both. The two delivered the address with each taking alternating paragraphs. The text is below.

Dear Class of 2016,

When we arrived at Cooper, the school was at the height of its disarray. Unbeknownst to us while we labored over our applications and freaked out about our home tests, an alarming narrative was unfolding within our future school.  We came in at the beginning of a crisis made public, the newest members of a community entering turmoil.  Within our first few months, we saw what would be the beginning of a long back and forth battle over whether or not Cooper would begin charging tuition.  If I never hear the words ‘donut model’ or ‘revenue generating program’ ever again, it’ll be too soon.  We witnessed two occupations, the beginning, middle, and end of a lawsuit, and underwent a year-long investigation by the Attorney General.  In our four years alone, we’ve had two presidents, three engineering deans, three deans in student affairs, and at least two architecture deans.  Not to mention how many Directors and Vice Presidents have come, gone, been promoted, or been demoted.

What our class experienced over our years here was nothing short of exceptional.  As freshman, we were required to wrangle the trials of foundation year and a full scale political crisis in the same moment.  While we were pulling all-nighters for Yuri’s basic drawing class, we were also negotiating what it meant to be a part of this institution, all the while wondering which rug was the next one to get pulled out from under us.  The moment you get used to something at Cooper, you can count on it changing.  Cooper has, and always will be, in motion, unstable, on the way somewhere but never having arrived yet.  Cooper has never been the same thing twice.  Our school is not only unique amongst higher education, it is unique from moment to moment.  It is to this in-between institution that we owe our gratitude.

The disorder we encountered here provided us an opportunity to thrive.  Cooper seemed to be undoing itself, yet it was precisely this undoing that allowed Cooper to outdo itself for us, giving us an educational experience which was as incidental and tragic as it was singular and unparalleled.  We experienced a Cooper that was concentrated, amplified, a Cooper which resounded within itself and thunderously proclaimed its values: free education to all.  Our free education is not a reward for our remarkable talent; free education is a requirement in order for one to learn wildly and exceptionally.

Only part of my education at Cooper occurred in the classroom or the studio, my other education happened after hours, in meetings, in forums, in late-night conversations.  The institutional instability that has characterized our time here forced us to turn to each other to seek out what the school couldn’t provide.  This education cannot be taught, it cannot be graded, and it cannot be awarded a degree.  This free education is the essential, undisputable cornerstone of our institution. Education, as a right, is priceless.

The degree you’ll receive today is a tool.  It is, on its own, not worth much (except for $40,800 USD, fees and conditions may apply).  Really, there is no inherent monetary value in your degree.  You alone are responsible for determining the worth of your education.  Your degree, and the education that it represents, are yours to utilize, or yours to abandon.  What I’m saying here is that you may think that, today, you’re finishing a journey you started four years ago, but this is both an ending and a beginning.  Before you depart from this place, thinking that you’re done, with diploma in hand, take stock of what you’ve accomplished here.  What you’ve poured into this institution while you’ve been here has resulted in more than a piece of paper with your name on it.  Take stock of the less tangible lessons you’ve learned, think about the things you learned in the in-between.  These are the things that will be useful to you when you leave this place.  These are the things that make your experience at Cooper truly unique and these are the things that you need to carry with you.

After spending so much time pushing against the impossible, we come to wonder what it is that we have accomplished here.  The Cooper that now exists is clearly different than the fragile institution we entered into, seemingly ready to fall apart at any moment.  There’s much work left to be done guiding our school into the future, and the road has been paved for it by the students in this room.  Even as we depart from this institution, it’s difficult to gauge our own impact.  Andy and I have positioned ourselves as close to the processes of this institution as a student can be, yet no real problem can be resolved in just four years.  We have no choice but to let our school go, holding onto a faith that the ideals we maintain as students will continue to be cultivated within these walls.

It would be a disservice to this institution to stop asking questions, to stop wondering. We were not taught to relax once we reached our end goal.  We have been taught to engage with the world around us. To never be complacent with the way things are.  We have been conditioned to think about what we value and to make certain that we protect those values.

Resist finishing.  Resist finishing for as long as possible.  Resist finishing your education.  Resist the fantasy of becoming an adult.  Resist the kind of responsibility that comes with growing up.  Resist stagnation.  Resist putting things off.  There’s time for the future later.  Hold this excitement, here, now, for as long as possible.  Keep your humility, keep your gratitude, and keep your curiosity.  Hold on to your ideals, crafted as they were in this ideal house, and continue, unapologetically, seeking out always more.

Hunty and Andy!

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.