Strange times are these days/weeks/months of COVID. In our home, we have mourned the loss of senior year, graduation, and the milestones that come with all of that. But, I know our family is going to look back and wish we had done a better job of acknowledging the highlights and achievements. For posterity’s sake, I think I’m going to indulge in a little of that now.
Southern Methodist University
Cooper’s stated goal for college was to secure the best academic experience he could afford. In the end, that choice was Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. The choice started as a fluke. Brad and Cooper went to Dallas for a football weekend in the fall of 2014 (junior year of high school). It was big-time Texas high school football on Friday night (Allen High School), the Red River college tradition of OU/Texas on Saturday, and the Dallas Cowboys in Jerry’s World on Sunday. With a little free time on Friday afternoon, they popped by the SMU campus unannounced. As “luck” would have it, an off-duty campus guide agreed to give a tour. Cooper was immediately smitten with the campus. And just like that, SMU moved to the top of his list.
The Hunt Leadership Program
As one might imagine, private school education is expensive and SMU is extremely so. If Cooper wanted to attend SMU, he would need to secure scholarships. He applied for The Hunt Leadership Program and was invited to attend ‘interview weekend.’ Brad has always said that if Cooper gets to the interview, he’s going to get the gig! And that was the case here. As divine intervention would have it, Cooper interviewed with the program namesake, Ray Hunt. Mr. Hunt was enthralled by Cooper’s story, and graciously extended him an offer to be in the program. It is a generous scholarship that made attending SMU a reality for Cooper.
We all know that it takes a village to raise a child – especially one as unique as Cooper. I take great pleasure in being able to acknowledge the vast number of people who have impacted his life. Cooper’s college career was made possible by various, incredible scholarships. And scholarships require a human touch – whether that touch is providing a service opportunity, a mentoring moment, a lead, a human interest story in the paper, a connection, a letter of reference, a note of encouragement. Cooper’s success at SMU was made possible by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, Pusch Ridge Christian Academy Board of Trustees, Cal and Joan Hutton-Taylor, AXA, Elks Foundation, Footlocker, Coca-Cola and probably a few more that I have forgotten to mention.
Beta Theta Pi
Once on campus, Cooper was prepared to thrive. A big part of cultivating his world as well as his tie to his father and brother (and his Uncle Steve and Cousin John) was to join the fraternity of Beta Theta Pi. Against the stern advice of Brad and Grayson, Cooper became pledge class president and led his rambunctious clan of brothers through the trials of pledge-ship. He went on to serve in the roles of Chapter Treasurer and Alumni Relations Chairman.
Unique Study Opportunities
One of my favorite things that Cooper did while at SMU was take an exclusive honors seminar that surveyed the history and impact of the U.S. Supreme Court. In the class, he constructed a thorough review of American libel law, and did so by researching the released papers of former Supreme Court Justices. This meant spending spring break of his freshman year in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, searching through boxes and boxes of archives. Seeing draft briefs with handwritten Justice notes in the margins gave Cooper a glimpse into the personalities shaping Supreme Court decisions, and solidified his drive to use the law to help others.
Through the programming at SMU, Cooper decided to study at Oxford. But before that study would begin, Cooper and a Beta friend would travel for six weeks around Europe – and Delaney would join them for four of those weeks. I distinctly remember telling him to be safe – be careful – as I dropped him at the airport. The first photograph that we received was of him hang-gliding in Interlaken, Switzerland. Overall, the trip included adventures in The Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Monaco, Ireland, and England. And the four-week study at Oxford’s University College enthralled him with its elaborate traditions, deep history, imposing architecture, and engaging format.
Tate Lecture Series
Truly, one of the main points of attending college is to expand your horizons. One opportunity to do just that is to take advantage of the speaker programs on campus. The Tate Lecture Series at SMU is regarded as one the of country’s finest platforms for distinguished and engaging discussions. As a member of The Hunt Leadership Program, Cooper was granted priority access to the Tate Lecture Series with free admission to lectures, meet & greets with the speakers, and an annual dinner with the Hunts and one featured speaker. Favorite world changers during Cooper’s tenure included Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo), Howard Schultz (Starbucks), General David Petraeus, and Delaney’s recommendation – Misty Copeland (American Ballet Theatre).
In my new role with Scout College Consulting, I am always telling students (and parents) that many college opportunities are not evident until you are actually on campus. One such opportunity at SMU is a series of reading groups organized by the O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom. Cooper participated in this program six times! With themes like The Past, Present, and Future of Work, The Role of Government in a Free Society, Freedom and Human Flourishing: Poverty, Prosperity & Quality of Life around the World, and The Economics of Knowledge, Cooper was hooked. The program gave him the opportunity to read, research, and discuss these topics with his SMU peers as well as students engaged in similar programs at Baylor University, Texas Tech University, and University of Arkansas.
Since Cooper’s college education would have a dual focus, his summer internships would follow suit. After his sophomore year, he interned with the St. Jude Children’s Hospital affiliate in Oklahoma City. He got to dabble in event planning, fundraising, and working with St. Jude families. After his junior year, he interned with VMG Health, a firm in Dallas that provides fair market valuations for businesses in the healthcare sector. His work within healthcare litigation and dispute resolution granted him access to some key federal regulations that impact healthcare facilities – exposure that will prove to be invaluable as he pursues a career in healthcare.
Making Family a Priority
Cooper loves people – and family in particular. In addition to taking his sister to Europe, Cooper could be found hanging with Grayson at the annual OU/Texas game, visiting Brad and Grayson at the OU Beta house, and coming home to see Delaney cheer. Homecoming weekend was my favorite time to visit campus. However, my favorite SMU memory is spending Easter as a family in Dallas. In reality, it only happened twice (and one time it included seeing Cooper perform in the campus’ 24-hour play)– but it feels like a legitimate tradition in my book.
Most people were surprised that the football fan in Cooper would pick a college with a struggling football program. Truly, when asked about that, Cooper would respond that things would be different by the time he graduated. It was as if he thought he could single-handedly make a change. Well … did you see Mustang football this past year? It was exciting! And from the triple overtime win over Tulsa (that literally had Cooper running from end zone to end zone to cheer his team!) to the road trip to Memphis to be on ESPN Game Day, Cooper was there to enjoy the ride. The surge on the field has been enhanced by the branding effort to make SMU “Dallas’ team.” There is excitement in the air surrounding this program. Keep them on your radar screen!
SMU’s lack of football history means that many of the students are not football fans. In our family of Clemson Tigers and Oklahoma Sooners, this is a bizarre realization. But Cooper was not deterred. In fact, he made it his personal mission to educate his friends and develop them into football fans. The enthusiasm bubbled over to the XFL as Cooper and his friends attended the season opener of the Renegades game with complete allegiance to the (short-lived) new team.
Cooper definitely embodies ‘suck the most out of life.’ I can’t believe how much of Dallas & Ft. Worth he explored during his four years there. Art exhibits. Random city parks. Food (we just recently heard about some Mexican street corn that we are now dying to try!). Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Dallas Farmer’s Market. And so much more!
Two Undergraduate Degrees
At the end of the day, it’s all about graduating! And Cooper did so (TODAY!) with honors, and with two separate degrees. A Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance. And a Bachelor of Science in Health & Society. The dual degree focus was intentional from day one. His goal is to one day run a children’s hospital. He knows he needs the financial acumen to run the day-to-day business, but he wants his role within the hospital setting to include the human side. He knows all too well what it feels like to be a long-term patient in a children’s hospital, and he wants to maintain that perspective as he strives to improve the experience for other families. The Health & Society degree allowed him to focus on that human side.
Again, the path has been intentional from the beginning. Law school has literally been the plan since the day Grayson introduced the concept in the Fall of 2013. At the time, Grayson was a freshman at OU. As a member of the President’s Leadership Class, Grayson had the opportunity to dine with Dean of the OU Law School. Dean Harroz (who this summer was appointed to serve as OU’s new President) talked about the value of law degrees, stating that persons with a law degree combined with health care administration would be the #1 most sought-after graduates in the near future. Tomorrow, Cooper will leave Dallas and head to Austin. By mid-week, we will be attending orientation at the University of Texas School of Law. Again, his goal was to attend the best program that he could afford – that also lends itself to a career in Texas. Even more so than Grayson, Cooper loves his adopted state and will make every effort to build his life in some part of Texas.
The Middle Child
Cooper often thinks of himself as the forgotten child. Yes, there are far fewer childhood photos of him. Yes, he is sooo comfortable in his own skin that we worry less and often leave him to his own devices. But anyone who has followed the Cooper story since about August of 2007 knows how much this child is loved … and could never be forgotten. We (and I truly mean the collective “we”) spent – literally – blood, sweat, and tears keeping him alive. And lots of prayers! He is impossible to forget! Brad often says that for his ‘last meal,’ he wants to spend it watching football with Cooper. For me, I got super sad when Cooper left on Thursday – even knowing that I was flying to Austin three days later to help him move into his rental house. He is a ray of sunshine and a burst of energy that we have enjoyed having at home for the last five months. He enjoys life like no one else I know. I am blessed to be his mother!