When Niklas Cooper, our 2020 Military Child of the Year for the Marine Corps, shows up, he brings a big heart as a leader and volunteer in his community and as a student at Lejeune High School in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where he is a junior.
In the past year, the 16-year-old dedicated more than 300 hours to mentoring, tutoring, and community projects while remaining devoted to academic and athletic excellence.
Niklas is the son of Mary and David Cooper, a Marine Corps first sergeant. He credits their support for his determination.
His success on the varsity track and cross country teams underscores his dedication and perseverance. As a freshman, Niklas worked to improve his cross country time, but a heart condition curtailed his running. Niklas was ineligible to participate in athletics after being diagnosed with left ventricular hypertrophy, an enlargement of part of the heart that causes high blood pressure.
Disappointed yet determined, Niklas served as the track team manager while doctors worked for a year to bring the issue under control. During his sophomore year, he was cleared to participate, and he developed strength and speed that helped his team win first in the region and seventh in the state.
“After I was diagnosed and my mom explained to my dad what it was, he responded with, ‘I always knew my son had a big heart.’ After hearing this, I took it literally and figuratively and started being more grateful for everything in my life,” Niklas said.
He developed resilience while growing up in a military family.
“Moving over six times in my life has required me to step outside of my comfort zone and learn to deal with change by viewing it as an opportunity rather than a hardship,” he said.
On his family’s fifth permanent change of station, Niklas organized a community debris cleanup around base housing soon after moving to Camp Lejeune. He has dedicated about 100 hours of community service to getting clearance and volunteers for the Camp Lejeune Project Cleanup.
When volunteering at Outdoor Odyssey in Pennsylvania, a camp for children of injured Marines, Niklas forged a bond with a camper that he has maintained ever since. Niklas continues to mentor the boy. As military children, they do not take their close bond for granted.
Niklas tutors his peers in Spanish and mathematics, and has earned recognition for achievement in advanced placement courses and for leadership in the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, where he is cadet staff sergeant.
During his father’s three deployments– a total of 30 months – Niklas helped with his three younger sisters. After the final deployment, Niklas became inspired as his father reintegrated back into the family and went back to school.
Niklas hopes to attend the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and become a linguist or international diplomat.
Favorite Quote: “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit” – Napoleon Hill.
- Class President, freshman, sophomore, and junior years
- Military Order of the World Wars, MCJROTC
- Gold Presidential Service Award Medal, MCJROTC
- National Honor Society
- Founder, Camp Lejeune Cleanup Project
- Volunteer and mentor at Outdoor Odyssey in Pennsylvania
- Advanced Placement Scholar with Honor recognition
- Varsity track team
Join us on our social channels below for more ways for you to join in the celebration. We also encourage you to submit messages of congratulations to our recipients.
Thank you to our gala sponsors, who cannot be with us in person, but whose support has been invaluable: United Technologies Corporation, Booz Allen Hamilton, Carnival Cruise Line, LaQuinta by Wyndham, PNC Bank, Procter and Gamble, and Veterans United Home Loans.
Read previous 2020 recipient profiles: