February 20, 2024 | Matt Kucinski

Since her sophomore year of high school, Grace Cooper knew where she was heading: West Point.

“I was taking classes to get me there, gym classes that would build my strength and prepare me for that,” said Cooper.

Her great grandpa and great uncle both served in the military and an alum of her high school in Oregon, Wisconsin, had talked to her for a couple of hours about his experience at West Point.

When plans fall apart

But then plans changed. “During the last week of April of my senior year, I was told that I was disqualified for health reasons,” said Cooper. “Because of that, I couldn’t attend there.”

In a moment, her dreams were shattered. And there really wasn’t a plan B.

“I felt unprepared to go to any other school,” said Cooper.

While Cooper was bent on going to West Point, she had applied the summer before her senior year to a few other places. She looked at schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she has extended family. “I kind of forgot I had applied to Calvin,” said Cooper. “I really didn’t know anything about the school.”

Another path comes into view

But Cooper opened an envelope from Calvin and saw a pull quote from an essay she wrote in her application. So, she started to research the school some more, “and everything lined up, financial-aid wise, program-wise, and then I got accepted into the Ministry Leadership Cohort.”

“I still didn’t know much, but everything was pointing towards Calvin, so I accepted my admission to Calvin,” said Cooper.

And then she visited … for the first time, for admitted student day.

Off to a great start

“The first thing they did was pray,” said Cooper. “I was like, ‘oh, this really is a Christian school, they are making God a priority. I wasn’t expecting that—that was a cool introduction to Calvin.”

While Cooper says her faith “is the most important thing in my life,” she had attended a public high school, so she didn’t have attending a faith-based institution as a must on her wish list. She also had a sister who went to a different Christian college and said she couldn’t tell from her sister’s experience that it was much different than a public institution.

But for Cooper, that prayer on admitted student day, was only the tip of the iceberg for what she’d come to discover during her first three years at Calvin.

Supported by community

Through the Ministry Leadership Cohort, she found a lot of her core group of friends, most from different majors than her own. “Seeing the way we love God and experience him differently and how we can pull ministry into whatever career we go into, whether vocational or as a leader among a congregation in a volunteer position, taught me a lot about different people and the ways they experience God,” said Cooper.


Cooper also became a worship apprentice in her sophomore year, where she had the opportunity to plan and lead chapels alongside peers and pastors.

While those more expected routes for faith formation were important to Cooper, so too were the relationships she built with her Christ-centered faculty members.

“Last semester when we studied abroad in Honduras, I got so close to people in the program, so close to Professor Maria Rodriguez. She was an amazing professor, leading us in our program and caring for us so deeply as we stepped into a new culture,” said Cooper. “I go to the Spanish department often to see my prof and to have the opportunity to speak Spanish with her.

“I’ve never had teachers who would pray for me,” said Cooper. “So it’s exciting to be in a community where many are walking through life with Jesus and willing to support you in academics and also just as a fellow believer who wants you to continue to grow in the Lord as you figure out what you are going to do in your life and how to incorporate God into every aspect of your life.”

A diversity of learners

While Cooper is grateful to be surrounded by Christ-centered faculty and peers who are growing in their faith, she is also grateful for the diversity of learners she gets to be in community with.


“My high school in Wisconsin was primarily White, so it’s nice to be in community where I have White, Asian, and Black friends. Calvin is a fairly diverse campus, so I’ve met people throughout the world who have different cultural backgrounds, different faith backgrounds. This last year I was reflecting a lot on what that means for God’s kingdom and how diverse his people are and I’m learning about God’s character and experiencing my faith in ways I haven’t before. Because I worship and experience God differently than others and by sharing our diverse experiences, we experience God and more deeply understand who He is and the people He loves.”

Added value

As Cooper is on the back half of her time at Calvin, she’s excited to do what she’s always wanted to do: become a pediatric oncologist. While she knows she could have been prepared to do that somewhere else, like West Point, she says the rigorous academics at Calvin “have prepared me for what’s to come in medical school.”

What’s just as clear to Cooper is how the environment she’s been in at Calvin has enriched her faith and equipped her in ways she never could have imagined.

So, would she do it again?

“If I was going to apply to colleges again out of high school, I would prioritize going to a Christian college or university. I’ve seen the ways they prepare us to go out into a secular world as a Christian and how to think about all these ideas from a Christian perspective, how to hold our beliefs and values close and to see where God fits in and is working in the various disciplines. And the compassion and the love of God that your professors show you is so important.”

“It was definitely God who got me here,” said Cooper. “I’m thankful that I listened to that call. I never knew what my time would look like here, and overall, I’m very grateful. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

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