By Taeeon Moon ’25
Arshay Cooper will be Mercersburg Academy’s speaker at the fifth annual Joseph Hilliard Beauregard ’18 Memorial Generosity of Spirit School Meeting on Friday, February 16. Raised on the West Side of Chicago, Cooper’s life took a transformative turn in 1997 when he joined—and eventually led—Manley High School’s groundbreaking all-Black high school rowing team, the first of its kind in the United States. This pivotal experience not only shaped his youth but also set the trajectory for his life’s work.
After dedicating two years to AmeriCorps, where he focused on diversity and inclusion initiatives, Cooper pursued culinary excellence at Le Cordon Bleu. His career as a chef saw him creating culinary delights for notable entities such as World Wrestling Entertainment, Warner Brothers, and various professional athletes. Despite his success in the food service industry, Cooper’s passion for mentoring young people guided him back to the waters that had a profound impact on his life.
As a coach for the Chicago Urban Youth Rowing Club and a youth program guidance counselor for Victory Outreach’s Midwest/Gulf Coast region, Cooper has dedicated himself to fostering opportunities for underprivileged youth. His commitment to creating change led him to found and support numerous rowing programs across the nation, aiming to replicate for others the life-altering experience he had on the water.
Cooper’s journey and the transformative power of rowing were immortalized in his award-winning memoir, A Most Beautiful Thing. The book’s adaptation into a film received critical acclaim, including a Gracie Award and a nomination for an NAACP Image Award.
Leading the A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund, Cooper has worked tirelessly to introduce rowing and academic support to underserved communities, not only in the United States but also internationally, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. His efforts have been recognized in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Sports Illustrated.
With partnerships that have extended his influence into the realms of fashion and corporate engagement, Cooper has spoken to audiences at the Obama Foundation, the Aspen Institute, and corporations like JP Morgan and Starbucks, as well as academic institutions such as Harvard University, Yale University, and Princeton University.
As Cooper prepares to share his compelling narrative with our community, we look forward to a presentation that will not only recount his extraordinary journey but also inspire our students to pursue their passions, embrace diversity, and enact positive change in their communities.
The Joseph Hilliard Beauregard ’18 Memorial Generosity of Spirit School Meeting series honors the memory of Beauregard, who attended Mercersburg for three years and graduated with the Class of 2018. He passed away in October 2018 during his freshman year at Savannah College of Art and Design; the speaker series has been established in his memory to further an ongoing and powerful message of recognition, respect, and caring that was a part of Beauregard’s life.