Welcome Back: Spring 2021
Dear Cooper Union:
Welcome back. A new year. A new semester. And a new chapter for our nation. With new beginnings, there is great opportunity and great responsibility to shape what comes next. In many ways now, the tradition of taking stock of the year that has just passed in order to frame our hopes and aspirations for the year ahead has taken on new urgency and requires our collective resolve.
There is reason for cautious optimism that 2021 will see the release of COVID-19’s grip on the world; but it requires sustained diligence in adhering to public safety measures as the vaccine begins to be distributed. There is reason to believe that the work of dismantling systemic racism and advancing social justice can make meaningful progress; but it requires all of us to press on with that work as individuals and as members of many communities, including Cooper’s. There is also reason to believe that this country can turn the page on one of the most divisive periods in modern American history; but it requires that we continue to use our voices and our votes to hold our leaders accountable and advocate for healing, unity, and shared prosperity.
It should not go unnoticed that today, our first day of the Spring 2021 semester, is positioned between two seminal observances – yesterday’s national day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and tomorrow’s inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States and Kamala Harris as the first woman and first person of color to serve as Vice President. Dr. King established a legacy for the peaceful pursuit of civil rights; the Biden/Harris administration will begin its White House tenure seeking to establish greater peace, civility, and common ground. A collective resolve requires that we commit as individuals and as a Cooper community to be agents of positive change, as has been Cooper’s legacy for generations. This does not mean that we must all agree on everything. Our community is rich because of the varied views and experiences that shape it. Unity does not require unanimity. It does require that, when we disagree, we base our debates on reason, honesty, facts, and a willingness to hear each other. As a community steeped in science, disciplined thought, and rigorous creative practices that help us see and live in the world in new ways, we are well equipped to model informed debate, envision new solutions, and help to move our society forward, as our founder, Peter Cooper, imagined.
With the fear of an approaching revolution, Peter Cooper put the word “union” on the front of the Foundation Building with the hope that he would one day bring opposing sides together to build a greater understanding of justice and the advantages that would come from working toward a more perfect union. In his letter to Trustees a few years later in 1859 upon beginning the school, he said, “I trust that the students of this institution will do something to bear back the mighty torrent of evils now pressing on the world. I trust that here they will learn to overcome the evils of life with kindness and affection.”
Today is the first day of a new semester in which we, as The Cooper Union – a community of people who work to challenge the status quo in pursuit of a better way – have both the privilege and the responsibility of continuing what Peter Cooper started. I urge each of us to recognize the roles we can play in closing the chasm, restoring civility, helping each other understand varied perspectives, and honoring our democracy in ways that are truthful, hopeful, and just. We will be challenged along the way. Stay the course and stay safe. As always, I can’t wait to see what we accomplish together.