Joe Cooper ’07 spent two years after Wabash in the Teach for America Program. Last year he started law school at Boston University. But this fall he’ll resume his pursuit of a law degree at Harvard Law School.
Cooper, a Wabash English major and Independent, will be the first Wabash man to study at Harvard Law in recent memory, according to Pre-Law Advisor Scott Himsel.
“At Wabash, Joe developed the most important skill of a liberally educated person – asking great questions,” Himsel said. “Indeed, Joe was one of the most inquisitive students I’ve had. There is no better way to prepare for the study of law than learning how to ask good questions in a liberal arts setting.
“Joe’s success should inspire his fellow Wabash men to continue to aim high and to work hard.”
Cooper has had a busy summer working and getting ready for the transition to the nation’s most prestigious law program. He answered some questions via email to share with the Wabash community.
Wabash: What graduate programs did you consider before landing at Harvard?
Cooper: I am actually transferring from Boston University School of Law. I came to Boston from Memphis, TN, because Boston offered great law schools for me, as well as great schools of public health for my girlfriend Christine, another Teach For America alum and a native of Worcester, MA.
The decision to transfer was difficult. I performed very well in my first year at B.U., finishing first in my class. I developed strong and lasting relationships at B.U., especially with career services staff and professors. However, I knew that an education from "across the river" would open doors in my career that otherwise would either be hard for me to open or closed to me altogether. (Harvard sits across the Charles River from B.U.). I could not pass up the opportunity to learn from the greatest legal minds in the world and study with future leaders in law, government, and politics. B.U. is a great school with a great reputation, but Harvard is arguably the leading legal institution in the world, and I'm humbled that I have the opportunity to take advantage of the opportunity.
Wabash: What was your Teach for America experience like?
Cooper: I taught for two years in Memphis, at a middle school as a member of the founding faculty at a new charter school, Power Center Academy. I still maintain close relationships with the school's administration, faculty, and students, who were and continue to be an inspiration to me. Teaching in an urban school system was a very challenging experience, but lesson-planning, grading, disciplining, and just generally being responsible for 120 adolescents helped me grow professionally and personally. It is hard to remember that you were in college only a year before, when you're reprimanding teenagers for sagging their pants or wearing their shirts untucked!
During law school, I've worked as a research assistant to my criminal law professor and as legal intern at the Massachusetts Department. of Elementary and Secondary Education, and participated in the Rappaport Fellowship in Law and Public Service. Each of these experiences has afforded me the opportunity to see the law from a unique angle. At DESE, I've helped legal staff promulgate regulations following Massachusett’s new Anti-Bullying law and assisted the administrative hearing officer in cases involving various educator misconduct claims.
Wabash: So now you’re going to Harvard, what does that mean to you?
: Gaining acceptance into Harvard Law School was a great moment for me. The opportunity to go to the alma mater of Supreme Court Justices and Presidents is both inspiring and humbling. While gaining acceptance has caused me to spend a lot of time preparing for the work that I lies ahead - the studying, learning my way around campus, and developing new relationships - I have also thought a lot about the path that has led me here. The other week, I was speaking with someone who spent their high school summers working for one of NYC's most prestigious law firms, delivering court filings, etc. I made the joke that, when I was in high school, I spent summers detassling corn and mopping floors in a tool and die shop. My new friend had never heard of 'detassling corn,' but he got the point, and we had a good laugh.
I guess one morale of that story is that I definitely won't take this opportunity for granted. At the same time, I am confident that I'm prepared to meet the demands of a Harvard education. It may seem convenient to say this now, but I truly believe that my classroom experiences at Wabash easily matched the caliber of discourse in my first-year law school classes. In particular, both the teaching and the student involvement in my Constitutional Law classes with Scott Himsel were practically indistinguishable from those I encountered in law school.
Ultimately, it's not simply a mission statement - Wabash really does teach its students to think critically. I guess what I'm trying to convey is just as Harvard Law School is perhaps a probable future for a high school student already working in a prestigious NYC law firm, Harvard is not a stretch from Wabash College.