“When Knowledge Will Cover the Earth as the Water Covers the Sea”

Jesicka Alexander-Labud, Architecture ‘06 November 3, 2011

This is a critical point in Cooper Union history, where we need to examine the true, interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial nature of Peter Cooper and his legacy.

The Art, Architecture and Engineering Schools have been functioning relatively separately till now. They seem to be going in each of their own pathways.  Sometimes, there are even fierce disagreements between students and alumni of the different schools.

However, it is no coincidence that it was created for “the Advancement of Science and Art.”

We need to begin to think in a more synthetic way. As a community, we need to be able to integrate ways of working and thinking that are all innovative but unique to each school. As graduates of this institution, why aren’t we actively involved in a major way- with the creation of the financial climate of this country?

The era of the “job” is coming to an end. The world is going in a direction that demands urgent attention- and Cooper Union needs to catch up. The divide between the classes, the haves and have nots, the financial crises around the world, and the allowing of people to believe that there is not much we can do about it from the higher ups… this is all mythology.

The members of the community who are presenting the dire, depressing facts of the Cooper financial crisis, and offering tuition even as a last resort consideration - are deceiving us. Tuition will be the end of Cooper. There are those who say that this is inevitability. Even worse than this, however, is that some of the community might begin to believe this is true one day- if we don’t change our thinking now. It is not so much a crisis of finances as it is the crisis of a closed mind.

We don’t need to hear the negativity. These are ridiculous, “obscurantisms” of Peter Cooper’s words- which is being manipulated but not being clearly understood. Peter Cooper was a visionary. What does it take to be a visionary? Faith. An Open Mind. Courage and the ability to turn negatives into positives. Persistence. And of course- an interdisciplinary mode of thinking.

This means synthesis of ideas involving the humanities, art and technology coming together at the right time with the right people. This is the source of wealth. Peter Cooper knew this. It will not be difficult to generate it, if we can put our hearts into it.

You can blame this crisis on a person, or a group of persons, or a financial downturn- but the true demon behind it all is the division of labor, the compartmentalization of thought. The separation that can even be seen as our three separated schools. They should be autonomous, but intertwining in a way it has never been done before.

Peter Cooper probably envisioned many, many entrepreneurial minded thinkers graduating from this school. He probably envisioned that they would have the ability to create the means and resources needed to give back to the school in a fundamentally big and sustainable way. I am not talking about a percentage of a “salary”, or an annual donation. I am talking about big ideas. When is the last time we got together and came up with one? Where are all the philanthropists of our time, and why aren’t they here at Cooper?

With respect for the deeply critical and thoughtful community that we are, I must pose a few questions to think about- why are so many of us content with comfort? We need to look into ourselves as a community. We need to criticize and reflect upon ourselves. Point the blame on us for once. Not to be negative, but to finally be able to perhaps see ourselves as accountable too- so that we can make the necessary changes.

I received an education I would never trade for anything in this world. At Cooper I learned about the social contract. Cooper prepared me to see the world critically and for that reason, my eyes were open to so many things I didn’t know existed. I took it upon myself to study the science and philosophy behind success- principles even Peter Cooper clearly lived by and utilized to become the “self made millionaire” who was able to do so much with his life. I examined it closely and found something. It was his search for truth, and his dedication to a life of giving- not taking- that made him who he was. Once we give up the “comforts” of life- and I mean the emotional comforts of stability and routine- only then can we truly find meaning and value- true capital- in our lives. He successfully did that.

That is why a Cooper startup- is so important. This should be only one of many! We cannot depend on others to take care of us anymore, just as we cannot stay in our mother’s womb forever. We need to take a deep look inside ourselves and our community, and tap into its vast resources of talent and passion- in order to help the school.

We have all signed a social contract that binds us to the mission of this institution when we entered it for the first time and received that free education. It was meant to be more than what it is doing right now. The social contract not only obligates us to the school, and to each other, but to the whole world! The belief that we can change the world- is not haughty- or outrageous! In fact I believe that it should be the common belief of every human being!

We, as Cooper graduates- could be of service to mankind- because we understand what it means- because we have received it first.
Each and every one of us IS the wealth of Cooper Union- We will hold up free speech and embody free education for all who seek it! But only if we truly have faith in this.

It is precisely because you received it that you can even begin to comprehend it.

Each of us is the wealth of Cooper Union. Now we just need to figure out how to convert the energy into capital. It can’t just be external donors that hold up this school. It must be us. So I challenge you all to do this. Entrepreneurship is a state of mind. Way back when, Peter Cooper envisioned a world where information was “free-flowing” in the air- which is why he invested in the telephone cable companies. What a visionary! He saw the internet, even way before it was! (Among so many other things!) He was a dreamer. He dared to dream, yes. What can YOU dream about, what can YOU see right now, today? Can you make it happen, if you have the right minds working together? Yes!

It’s always a big risk, many people will be negative, and there might be terrifying obstacles in your way. It is not easy to face all this and still win. But with a little persistence and faith, I believe we can hold up Cooper and keep it tuition free ourselves. I truly do. You can call me a blind optimist as much as you want, but just don’t call me an offender. I love this instituion and what it stands for- WITH ALL MY HEART ALL MY SPIRIT AND ALL MY SOUL. Cooper Union was a dream too, once upon a time. Why can’t we think big? Is it a sin? No. It’s just fear talking. We must overcome fear together.

Thank you for listening,

Jesicka Alexander-Labud, Architecture 2006
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