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Jonathan Mooney on the Role of Adults

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Jonathan Mooney on the Role of Adults

Jonathan Mooney discusses the role of adults in his life.

  • Duration: 5 minutes
  • Date Posted: 3/2/2015
  • Topics: Family Support, Supportive Adults, Perseverance, High Expectations

Funding for this series was provided in part by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation.


Yeah, adults played a big role in my life.

You know, I mentioned that I went off to go to college.

I actually went off to an ivy league school, Brown University, where I graduated with an honors degree in English and literature.

And I was able to do that because I was somebody who really never gave up, somebody who was resilient and persevered.

And if I heard "no," I turned it into a "yes.

" And that was a really important skill to develop.

And I think of it as a skill.

You know, I don't read well, I don't write well, but I don't give up.

And that is more important than those other sort of academic skills.

Even in my own life today.

And so those skills were built by two people in my life, and I will talk about them briefly.

One was my mom.

I have to celebrate her.

You know, my mom faced some challenges in her own life.

She was a very resilient woman.

She raised my brothers and two sisters on welfare in San Francisco.

She didn't do well in school, struggled academically, probably undiagnosed learning disabled herself.

And a lot of folks didn't take her seriously because she had this very funny, high-pitched voice like Mickey Mouse.

But people dismissed my mom at their own peril.

Because my mother, she cursed like a truck driver.

And if you were a principal or a teacher doing wrong by her son, you did not want cursing Mickey Mouse in your office.

But that is really where my mom was, every day, fighting for me.

Believing in me, and really giving me that message to never give up.

To be resilient.

So I owe a lot of my journey to my mom.

I also owe most of my journey to educators in my life.


And I had some teachers that didn't do right by me, but I had more who believed in me and supported me.

And the list is long.

It is Mr.

R in third and fourth grade, that I mentioned, that teacher who helped me think of myself differently.


Towner was a high school guidance counselor that I had, who really gave me this message that things get better.

And that is really important to understand.

One of the reasons I didn't give up in high school, even before then, I had a plan for suicide when I was 12, one of the reasons I didn't give up and follow through on that was because of people like Mr.

Towner, who said that things get better.

You know? The traits that lead to life success are often not the traits that lead to school success.

There is more Fortune 500 CEOs run by C-students than valedictorians.

And often kids who struggle in school can thrive in life.

And that was a real message that Mr.

Towner gave me every day.

And the last person I want to mention was another educator, a man named Mr.


This was a teacher I met in high school, actually toward my end of high school, senior year.

He was an AP English teacher.

I always had a passion for stories, and literature, but I was no good at reading and writing.

And he took a risk on me, and let me into this AP class that I had no right to be in.

And I remember one of the things that he believed in deeply was that every single human being had a strength or a talent.

And so he dedicated much of his class to asking people what were they good at? What were there talents? What were their strengths? And that was a hard question for me to answer for a long time.

You know, all I ever heard in my IEP meetings were what was wrong with me.

I never heard anything about what was right with me.

So Mr.

Starkey would ask me, and I would say, "You know what? I'm not good at anything.

" You know, I'm not good at spelling, I'm not good at writing.

And he, one day I will never forget, I was 17, he said "Jonathan, in my class screw spelling, screw what you're not good at, and build your life on your talents.

" And that was a real lesson to me.

Because what I've learned now is that, you know, people who persevere, who have grit, tenacity, they're people who are living a life based on passion, purpose and strength.

And they have organized their education and their life around those things, and it has helped them transcend those low expectations that helped me transcend those low expectations, and I owe a lot of that to those people in my life, my mom, and those educators, like Mr.


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