Marcus Michelen (BSE’14)
As nearly every student here would say, I distinctly remember when I found out that I got accepted to Cooper. I was working on a presentation for Macroeconomics with my two closest friends and my mom called me. When she told me the news, I nearly collapsed to the floor. My friends thought that someone in my family had died. When I finally got myself together and told them what happened, they were ecstatic. They knew how much this meant to me, how I had wanted this more than anything else, how it felt like it would be the single greatest day of my life.
I never knew why I wanted to go to Cooper. In middle school, I dreamt of being an architect but, more importantly, studying at Cooper. As I got older and entered high school, I realized I wasn’t talented enough to be get into Cooper for architecture. I put any and all of my architecture dreams on hold: in order to go to the Cooper Union, I had to be an engineer. I wanted – I needed – to come here. I needed to come here.
There was a mystique, an aura surrounding the school in my mind, one I never bothered to contemplate until recently. It wasn’t exactly the free tuition that made me so enamored with the school, but nearly everything I idolized about Cooper can be seen as a direct result of the free tuition.
I’m reminded of Alexander Sokurov’s film Russian Ark. The film covers over 300 years of Russian history, yet consists of a single 96-minute long Steadicam shot. No one would ever argue that the single-shot structure of the film is what makes it so appealing, yet this superficially interesting constraint is responsible for nearly all of the charms of the film. In other words, a constraint with a superficial appeal sometimes nurtures lasting and deeper positive qualities.
For Cooper, the superficially appealing constraint was the full-tuition scholarship. It’s certainly tempting to go to school for free, but that can’t be the only reason to go to the school. The scholarship yielded many qualities that I desired, in retrospect: the school couldn’t afford too many scholarships each year, so the school remained a very small, tight-knit community; students weren’t treated as customers and, thus, were required to genuinely work and learn for their degree; the school was insanely competitive, giving Cooper an aura of exclusivity.
Cooper was the type of school that could take something that Mark Epstein would see as “icing on the cake” and transform it into the foundation of a mythic place of obscure charm and mystique. It seemed like magic to me.
Now that the school has decided to charge tuition, starting with the incoming class in fall of 2014, the world has finally seen the smoke and mirrors behind the magic trick that was Cooper Union. In the years I’ve spent at Cooper Union, I’ve grown up significantly:
During this time of my life, I started drinking coffee, I held a 40-hour a week job, I started monitoring my cholesterol, I was rejected from a job for the first time, and I had a job that I was specifically trained to do.
I came to accept that change probably won’t happen, that when someone’s neck is on the line, they will not innovate.
I had my first serious relationship, I learned to deal with failure, and I learned to treasure true success. My youthful high school ego, the one that got me into Cooper, was cut down by students far smarter than I will ever hope to be.
Perhaps most importantly, I stopped believing in magic.