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Nicole Cooper Delivers Inspiring 2018 Reunion Convocation Speech

June 2018

Spelman Alumna Nicole CooperDuring her Reunion Convocation keynote speech, Nicole Cooper, DrPH, MPH, C’2008, shared how her upbringing and Spelman experience has shaped her success and fervor. “As Black women, our unique and authentic voices, spirits, and our bodies are desperately needed, yet diminished, in our world, in our country, and in our communities and workplaces.”

Growing up in a low-income, African-American neighborhood in Washington, D.C., Dr. Cooper, who now serves as the senior director of Mission Distinction & Corporate Social Responsibility for United Health Group, said her humble beginnings and education at “this magical place” called Spelman played a role in her being a key player in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“Me. Someone with lived experience as a patient inside the Medicaid system…it was an absolute vision come true.” And while there may be pitfalls along the way, Cooper believes Spelman has equipped its graduates to face those pitfalls “especially when God and the universe work in great concert with our boldest ambitions and dreams.”

Excerpts From Nicole Cooper's Reunion Convocation Speech -- May 18, 2018

Reunion Brochure 2018“As I prepared for today, I reflected on the awe-inspiring history of Spelman College, and the countless undaunted visionaries who laid the foundation for Spelman’s incredible legacy and for all of us. In reflecting on these fearless forces, I came up with a simple question for the reunioning classes this year –“As a Spelman alumna, how do you set your vision for things yet unseen each day?” And, when I say vision, I mean it in the sense of a picture that can be imagined in your mind that leads you to bold, fearless action. I stand before you as someone who knows first-hand the difference that claiming a voice and setting a vision yet unseen can make in your life.  
 
Every day proves more fervently that we are the leaders that we have been waiting for. And that we must ensure that our enduring fires within never dwindle, and that we breathe life into the fearless, visionary forces that we were each molded to be in receiving the gift of Spelman.”

 
A Vision to Improve the Health of Vulnerable U.S. Communities

“Looking back with my public health lens, as a child, I noticed that my community [in North East, Washington, DC] in many ways was in crisis. Too many people within the population faced sickness, disability, and lack of access to healthy choices. I later learned that my community experienced pervasive health inequalities that are present throughout the United States. These inequalities are caused by many societal factors that put us at risk for disease, stress, and early death. I started to assess my own health care experience: I had been uninsured at different periods of my childhood, and had received my health care at a local community health center while on Medicaid.
 
At that point in my life, as a high school student, a career in medicine was the only option that I knew of that would allow me to use my talents and straight A’s in math and science. I started to make the connection that my professional goal to one day become a family physician should somehow improve the very apparent health inequalities present in my community and in my family. I had a vision.”

Sharing Spelman's Awe-inspiring Story

“It was at Harvard, while studying to obtain my doctoral degree, that I embraced the tenants of my Spelman education even more by doing 3 things each day in the classroom:

1.       Embodying excellence
2.       Claiming my voice
3.       Making my vision plain despite what was happening around me.

Which is why we all see more than ever that in the current social and political climate, America may not know it, but America, and the world for that matter, needs Spelman College. We need institutions like this one that recognize and foster the needs and thoughts of Black women in ways that other institutions simply cannot.”

A Call to Action: Pursue Those Crazy Dreams and Visions

2018 Graduates

“Given the deep connections that we hold and the many experiences that we’ve shared through receiving the gift of Spelman, we must foster the potential of others. We must certainly be bold examples of Black women who are not afraid to create our own futures, while asserting our own agency and our own worth.
 
I know that all of you fierce alumnae and future alumnae know that we have no time to be disheartened or dismayed. We've got work to do, and visions to make real, and sometimes that work will be back-breaking, thankless, and threatening to others, but so very rewarding in the end. But, we’ll be alright because we’ve got the gift of Spelman. We are dangerously equipped to succeed, especially when God and the universe work in great concert with our boldest ambitions and dreams.  We have the strength, the grace, and the odds-defying tenacity and sisterly spirits that are needed to get it done while taking care of ourselves and each other.
 
To echo the words of Marian Wright Edelman, class of 1960, former chairman of the Spelman College Board of Trustees, and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, when being interviewed during the 1988 inauguration of our dear 7th Sister President Johnetta Betch Cole:

"Academic leadership for what? Academic excellence for what? It is to serve others. We are not interested in educating women just to be like everybody else. Our definitions of success are not the traditional notions of success that too many black and white young people have."
 
So Spelman sisters, may we find deep inspiration and success as we encounter resistance each day as liberated and educated Spelman women.
 
Here’s to strong, visionary Black women who refuse to let their worth and ambitions be stifled. May we be them, may we know them, may we mentor them, and may we raise them.”

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