by Professor Margarita Mooney
John Aroutiounian, who passed away on May 3, 2019 of cancer at the age of 26, will always be remembered not just for his big vision, but for his unique ability to make big things happen.
One poignant memory of John, who I first met when I was on the faculty at Yale and he was an undergraduate, was my birthday in 2016. Having just completed an exhausting move from Yale to Princeton that summer, John came to Princeton to wish me a happy birthday in late August. With a giant smile and a passionate look in his eyes, he handed me a book, Augusto del Noce’s Crisis of Modernity and told me, “Margarita, we have to do a summer seminar on this book!”
Over my birthday dinner—frozen pizza and bagged salad at my apartment still full of boxes from the move—John and I conceived the idea for the first Scala summer seminar “Rediscovering Integral Humanism.” Over text, email, phone and in-person visits, John and I organized Scala’s first summer seminar that took place in 2017 at Oxford University and Ampleforth Abbey in the United Kingdom. As I wrote at the time in the Scala newsletter, that seminar was undoubtedly the highlight of my career and it transformed the lives of the 14 participants.
Never, ever, in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that less than three years later, I’d kiss John’s coffin in the aisle of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City after delivering his eulogy.
John is one of many students I’ve mentored since near the beginning of their college career through graduate school applications, fellowship applications, and major life decisions. This long-term engagement with students as whole persons – with their intellectual, vocational, personal and spiritual journeys in view – is a central part of Scala’s vision. John was one of many Scalumni who themselves carried out this vision through their own mentoring of younger students.
John’s loss is truly incalculable. But since his death, I’ve seen even more clearly what made him so special and how many people he impacted with his vivacious personality, deep love for everyone, passion for the truth, and willingness to sacrifice his own good for the love of others. As one of his friends said at his wake, John exemplified what David Brooks calls both the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. David Brooks taught John at Yale, and remarked on twitter that John’s personality and insights are truly unforgettable.
Through Scala’s continued work to educate the whole person, John’s memory and legacy will continue. Nothing can take away the pain of this loss for his beloved parents and hundreds, if not thousands of friends (no exaggeration) but as John himself knew, it is often through pain, sacrifice and loss that we come to see and cherish what matters most—truth, beauty, goodness and the infinite.
When people ask me if the ideals Scala strives to form within students are some kind of utopia, I can point to John’s shining example.
John’s young death pierced so many hearts, but I have no doubt that his vision of building communities of learning and service in faith and love will continue.
Please visit my personal blog to read my eulogy for John, delivered May 7th, 2019, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.