In Spite of Obstacles, Peter Cooper Gets His Birthday Wreath

February 13, 2014

Happy 223rd Birthday to Peter Cooper! photos by João Enxuto Richard Lincer, Jamshed Bharucha and John Leeper (l to r) Cupcakes for all
Happy 223rd Birthday to Peter Cooper! photos by João Enxuto

Students, faculty, alumni and staff gathered outside in freezing temperatures on February 11 to once again mark the birthday of Peter Cooper, founder of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. He would have been 223 years old the following day, and those indebted to his vision and philanthropy gathered as they have every year to lay a wreath over the staff of the Augustus Saint-Gaudens statue of the great man. Only this time there were significant obstacles to accomplishing that goal, besides the usual cold and roaring traffic around Peter Cooper Square.

A parks department employee lays the annual wreathDue to an ongoing reconstruction of the entire Astor Place/Cooper Square area, the park and the statue were off limits. As a result celebrants gathered in front of the Foundation Building. There the host, John Leeper (AR’85) president of the Cooper Union Alumni Association, Jamshed Bharucha, president of The Cooper Union, and Richard Lincer, chairman of the Board of Trustees, spoke to the crowd in spite of ongoing construction noise. Some people brought balloons.

John Leeper told the crowd it was important to honor the founder’s vision at this crucial moment in the institution’s history. The CUAA, he said, will work with the trustees and the entire community "to place the institution solidly in the path of a sustainable future." That future "must be one based on a mission that embodies the tradition of the school that has given Cooper its place in the world.” He cited a January CUAA resolution supporting a board-led process that would include all members of the Cooper Community to define the mission of The Cooper Union. “We cannot continue being divisive," he said. [Read John Leeper's full remarks.]

Richard Lincer recalled the story of his father, a Cooper Union graduate, who benefited from Peter Cooper's vision of education as a path to social mobility for the working classes. “It was Cooper Union which gave my father that opportunity – to lead a successful career as a structural engineer, which in turn allowed my brother and me to achieve our own professional success. And that is why, although not an alumnus, I am so gratefully devoted to Cooper Union and all that it stands for." [Read Richard Lincer's full remarks.]

At the ceremony's conclusion the challenge of laying the wreath on the staff was overcome. A New York City Parks Department employee took the wreath over the fence and laid it upon the statue, following tradition.  Afterwards the celebrants moved into the lobby of 41 Cooper Square, where they enjoyed cupcakes, refreshments and a bit of warmth.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.