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Digging Deeper: Age Quod Agis

No Latin phrase is so well-remembered by our alums, and so misunderstood by our students, as Age Quod Agis, the motto of Jesuit High School. In an era of rising rates of anxiety among adolescents, and countless distractions, I offer a bit of context about what our motto should—and should not—teach our students.

Sometimes we translate Age Quod Agis to mean "Do well whatever you do," adding an implied "well" to the Latin. Too many students—especially freshmen—think that means we expect them to do everything well. That is simply not possible, nor a healthy approach to the myriad challenges that life presents.

Age Quod Agis literally translates as, "Do what you are doing." Age Quod Agis emphasizes mindfulness, not accomplishment. In the age of Instagram and Snapchat and Pinterest, it is increasingly difficult to be fully present to any task, or conversation, or even prayer—to really do what we are doing.

As a Jesuit school, we ask our students to pursue excellence. God has given each of us gifts, and we are to develop and make use of those gifts. But that doesn't mean that students are expected to be good at everything.

On the exam in his Faith Formation class, Fr. Calderón, SJ asked his freshmen to reflect on what Age Quod Agis means to them. A few student responses struck a cautionary chord, so Fr. Calderón shared them with counselors and administrators. The student responses reveal the pressure we may be unwittingly placing on students—including through the phrase Age Quod Agis. Here are a few of the freshman responses.

Psychologists tell us that today's students feel more anxiety than ever before about their school performance. At Jesuit, we remind students that they are loved, deeply, by their parents, by their teachers, and by God—just the way they are. We work to show cura personalis—care for the individual person—to each of our students. One way we can do that is to remind students that no one is expected to do well at everything they do.

This is what I told the student body at our assembly on Friday, January 24:

"You are sitting under a banner that says, Age Quod Agis, our school motto. This Latin phrase is often misunderstood. It does NOT mean, 'Be excellent at everything.' Age Quod Agis does not mean you have to get A's in all your classes, nor that we have to win every game and every state title. It simply means, 'Do what you are doing, deeply.'

Do whatever you choose to do, deeply. Don't be distracted. Don't do your homework with Instagram and YouTube open on your screen. If you are playing hoops tonight, or skiing tomorrow, do that, and only that, with your whole attention. When doing your math homework or hanging out with friends, Be Present in that moment. DO what you are doing, without distraction. Try to stay focused.

Now, Dr. Shamieh and I are going to honor three students who have been doing what they are doing, deeply, without distraction, for a long time. We should all be proud of these students. In fact, we are proud of all of you, and thankful for all of you." We then recognized seniors Natalie Tran, Soumik Chakraborty, and Rupert Li for their deep attention to their chosen passions, in piano, science, and mathematics, respectively. We emphasized that Natalie, Soumik, and Rupert had found a passion, and focused on that passion, deeply, and their efforts have borne rich fruit. These three are not also expected to be excellent athletes, or thespians, or the funniest students in their class.

This is what Wikipedia has to say about Age Quod Agis: "This is the motto of several Roman Catholic schools. Often translated as 'do well whatever you do.' Literally translated, it means "do what you do"; figuratively it means "keep going, because you are inspired or dedicated to do so." It was used by Pope John XXIII in the sense of "do not be concerned with any other matter than the task in hand"... (Pope John XXIII, Journal of a Soul, pages 154-5).

For a clear explanation of what St. Ignatius meant by Age Quod Agis, check out this charming two-minute lesson by Fr. Jerry Wade, SJ, a former Latin teacher at Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose (and President of Jesuit-Sacramento when Mr. Arndorfer was a student there!). With a nod to Friends, this video is called "The One with Age Quod Agis."

Paul J. Hogan