Simply Being: A New Ladder To Success?


Yannie Lopez

Dr. Maragarita Mooney (second from right) joins SBP faculty and students after her talk. From left, Admissions Director Didier Jean-Baptiste, Ibrahim Mendheim SY, Felix Clayton SY, and Religion Teacher Mr. Stephen Adubato.

As I am sure many of the seniors remember, Dr. Margarita Mooney from Princeton Theological Seminary came to speak to the Senior Class on Oct. 10 to address a concern that she had noticed not only in her own career, but in that of her students’ lives.

As a sociologist of religion, Dr. Mooney explores how religious beliefs and practices contribute to congregants’ health and well-being. Dr. Mooney, an associate professor of congregational studies, earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and her master’s and doctoral degrees from Princeton University. 

 Her message to SBP Seniors was particularly relevant since it came during a time when Seniors are planning for college and other next steps for their futures.

Yannie Lopez
Dr. Margarita Mooney addresses SBP Seniors, challenging them to think more of themselves than what they achieve.

 In many educational systems, a major emphasis is placed on a student’s performance, whether it be in the classroom, on a standardized test, or on an athletic or activities-related platform, Dr. Mooney noted. Oftentimes these are the primary factors that are used to determine a student applicants’ value.

However, should this same concept, measuring through performance alone, also be how we value ourselves as people? 

Dr. Mooney argued in the negative and pointed out that this dangerous process of evaluating one’s “worth” is normally something that actually does extend beyond the applications process. As a student herself at a prestigious institution and later as a professor, she saw the behavior in herself and others.

“The constant message that you’re getting implicitly is that ‘You are what you achieve,’ ‘You are what you can do,’ ‘You are the summary of all your grades and test scores,’” she said.

She then expressed, as a researcher at Yale University, how she had seen this mindset cause her college students to be unhappy with their lives. This, she said, might be surprising, as one might expect that making it to an elite school, such as Yale University would give students a sense of fulfillment.

 But this, she realized, was not the case. She believed that this feeling of unhappiness and discontent she saw in so many had a common cause. “They had internalized that their identity is what they can do,” she said.

SBP Religion Teacher Mr. Stephen Adubato, who invited Dr. Mooney to speak,  acknowledged and praised her efforts. “I am very grateful for people like Dr. Mooney who take these questions seriously and who want to accompany students on their journey,” he said.

Midway through her speech, Dr. Mooney employed a symbol of a ladder in an extended metaphor. She introduced this image when she shared a story about a trip to a Benedictine monastery, north of  England, that she visited with one of her students. She was so moved by the experience that she decided to create a non-profit to support more of these trips. She named it the Scala Foundation, after the word “scala” in The Rule that means “ladder.” She thought that the ladder represented the struggle between a person’s identity and his or her actions.

“Paradoxically, maybe you feel more free when you accept that you are not actually in control,” Dr. Mooney said. “If one is not what they can control then how what, or who defines us as an individual?”

As Dr. Mooney noted, it is easy to confuse identity with performance. We often allow our performances on tests, at games, and elsewhere to determine our emotions. This message, to take another look at who we are and challenge this norm, is extremely relevant today.

 If we can see ourselves as inherently valuable and as separate from our work and play, we can release ourselves from feelings of stress and anxiety. We can find true enjoyment in being. 

Dr. Mooney invited us to discover our true selves. Students need to see that they are far more than their performance on a given challenge. For Mooney, the key is having a relationship with God. She believes that this is one of the most important things that we can do in our lives. “If we take time to think about this very important question of who we fundamentally are as human beings, and what makes us free, we can still find joy when things seem hard,” she said.

 So take the challenge. Change the way you view your performance. See it for what it is and nothing more. Begin the journey in discovering yourself.