John Cooper School celebrates 30 years with festive reflection
Despite the soggy and stormy morning, students, parents, administrators, faculty, staff and alumni filled The John Cooper School’s Dunlap Gymnasium Thursday, chatting in excitement for what was to come.
Although it was the 27th annual John Cooper Day, this one held special significance: it was also the celebration of the school’s 30th birthday.
After kindergartener and senior pairs who participate in the special “adoption” program marched into the room, serenaded by noble music and announced by name, Head of the Upper School Stephen Popp gave introductory remarks about birthdays.
“Today, as our speakers share stories from our past, I invite you all to reflect not only on where we’ve been and where we are, but to envision where we could all go together, as Dragons, on our shared journey from curiosity to wisdom,” Popp said.
Head of School Mike Maher then did just that — telling the packed crowd how the school started. There was just one building and only 175 students when the school first opened in 1988. Now, Maher said, there are more than 1,200 students enrolled in grades K-12 and many buildings have been added to the campus.
Maher shared a moment when seniors were asked to describe the school, this year’s senior class chose the word community.
“This was indeed a great choice, because the heart of Cooper is today, and always should remain, our strong sense of community, comprised of our talented and hard-working students, our 1,785 and counting graduates, our passionate, creative and dedicated faculty and staff and our parents past and present,” Maher said.
Maher then welcomed to the stage Catherine Devore Johnson, who began attending Cooper its inaugural year and graduated in 1996. Johnson, now a writer and pilot-in-training, reflected on her time at the school.
“Back then everything was new. It was a blank slate,” Johnson said, sharing stories of classes being held in a supply closet and small class sizes. “As bare-bones as this may sound, it was a really exciting time to be a student at Cooper. We literally got to watch an institution being built from the ground up.”
Johnson added that the heart and soul were present at Cooper from the beginning, despite the lack of facilitates initially.
“I will be forever grateful to John Cooper, whose wisdom and expertise guided the foundation and early years of this school, and to the teachers and administrators, past, present and future, who honor his legacy by bringing life to the school’s mission each and every day,” Johnson said.
Next, David Chenault, who has been a member of the school’s board of trustees since 1996, also spoke about the growth of the school in buildings, programs and sports teams.
“I have a pretty good feel for the history of the John Cooper School. I have seen (it) grow from its infancy and sometimes rocky adolescence, to a relatively smooth-sailing maturity,” Chenault said.
Although she didn’t speak, Marina Valentine, the founding director and first Cooper head of school, was also in attendance but did not address the crowd.
Students from the lower, middle and upper schools gave community presentations about their work in supporting Habitat for Humanity in fundraising, philanthropy and building Habitat houses for the past 20 years before the Cooper choir closed out the ceremony with a song about hope.