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John Cooper School alumnus and faculty remember Bush’s 1994 baccalaureate speech

December 4, 2018

The passing of former President George H. W. Bush has caused some to call to mind not only the deeds of the 41st U.S. commander in chief, but also their interactions with him.

At The John Cooper School in The Woodlands, this means remembering when Bush spoke at their first baccalaureate service almost 25 years ago.

The school had been founded in 1988, but their first graduating class of 25 students was set to walk across the stage in 1994. John Cooper alumnus Anthony Compofelic, who lives in The Woodlands, was one of the seniors that year who was able to receive his baccalaureate address from the former president.

“We were shocked that he was going to come and speak,” Compofelic said as he recalled the day.

He also had the opportunity to meet the former president in person, where Compofelic said Bush’s presence was engaging and welcoming. That interaction became one of Compofelic’s key school memories.

Some current John Cooper faculty and staff were also there. Registrar Anne Meinrath, who worked in admissions at the time, remembers it as a sweltering day—but that didn’t seem to bother those in attendance for the occasion. She said about 2,000 students, parents and faculty showed up to hear Bush speak.

“The whole campus was so excited. No one was worried about the heat once (Bush) started talking,” Meinrath said.

She added that Bush’s appearance came about because the head of school at the time, Marina Ballantyne, was relentless in her pursuit to have him visit John Cooper.

This may have been because Bush had a connection to the school: he was allegedly friends with John Cooper, the man the school was named after as well as a previous headmaster at Houston’s Kinkaid School, the campus where Bush’s children were educated.

So, Bush finally agreed to come and speak.

In an article published in John Cooper’s in-house publication, Ballantyne wrote that Bush’s speech was “sprinkled with wit and wisdom.”

U.S. Representative Kevin Brady was in attendance during the event. Brady said that while the speech was wonderful, there was a more impressive aspect.

“(Bush) took a moment to have a conversation with every graduate coming to the podium, coming across the stage. I’m not talking a moment, he took time to talk to every one of them,” Brady said.

Another faculty member who still works at John Cooper, gym teacher Elaine Harris, also had an interaction with Bush. She was the one to pin the boutonniere on his lapel that day.

“I’ll never forget that,” Harris said.

Now, faculty members are ensuring that current students remember Bush. During the morning announcements Wednesday, lower school students will hear about Bush’s life and kindness, while upper school students will hear about Bush’s legacy in an assembly Thursday.

jane.stueckemann@chron.com

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