Keegan ’12 remembered for writing, activism

Marina Keegan '12 died Saturday afternoon in a car accident near Dennis, Mass. She was 22.
Marina Keegan '12 died Saturday afternoon in a car accident near Dennis, Mass. She was 22. Photo by Joy Shan.

Marina Keegan ’12, a prolific writer, actress and activist, died Saturday afternoon in a car accident near Dennis, Mass. She was 22.

At Yale, Keegan distinguished herself as a leader across disciplines: in addition to writing and starring in several campus plays, Keegan served as president of the Yale College Democrats, and last fall sparked a campus discussion on careers in finance and consulting that ultimately spread to other Ivy League campuses and the pages of the New York Times. Friends and professors interviewed remembered Keegan as a talented and ambitious young woman who had keen insight into human nature.

“Marina was someone who looked at the world and knew it had to be changed, but at the same time saw there was beauty in it,” said Yael Zinkow ’12, Keegan’s close friend.

Keegan came to Yale from Wayland, Mass., in fall 2008. An English major and member of Saybrook College, she completed the writing concentration and graduated magna cum laude five days before her death.

In her writing, Keegan captured the concerns of her generation, friends and writing professors said. She drew national media attention in September 2011 with the WEEKEND cover “Even artichokes have doubts,” which critiqued the high number of recent Yale graduates pursuing careers in finance and consulting. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and on the New Yorker website, and one of her short stories aired in NPR’s “Selected Shorts” in 2011.

Keegan interned at the Paris Review in New York City this spring and was preparing to move to Brooklyn in June to start a position as assistant to the general counsel at The New Yorker.

“She was an exceptional person, wildly talented, and with the confidence and character (and personal modesty) to have done fine things,” English lecturer John Crowley, who advised Keegan on her writing concentration senior project, wrote in a Sunday email. “Her loss can’t be expressed — to those who knew her, to her family, to her friends — but the loss also to the world that lay before her. In what seems to me now the beautiful yet terribly small pile of writing she left, that’s clear.”

Writing professor Anne Fadiman described Keegan as a “self-starting cornucopia” who demonstrated her aptitude as a writer across several genres, never falling victim to writer’s block or needing the pressure of a good grade or impending deadline to write.

Fadiman first encountered Keegan at a Master’s Tea in fall 2010, when Keegan, then a junior, challenged author Mark Helprin after he told audience members not to pursue writing careers because of their low likelihood of success.

“I just remember this beautiful, articulate woman standing up and clearly not willing to be cowed by this famous writer, contradicting him, speaking up, declaring her determination to try, declaring her determination to ignore his discouraging words,” Fadiman said.

The same conviction was evident in her political and social advocacy on campus.

Keegan served as president of the Yale College Democrats in 2011, spearheading the organization’s lobbying efforts to end the death penalty in Connecticut and pass legislation that would allow illegal immigrant students to pay in-state tuition fees at public colleges under certain conditions. In late 2011, she helped organize the Occupy Morgan Stanley movement, which urged Yalies to be more conscious of their career choices.

Joseph Breen ’12, who served as a 2011-’12 co-coordinator of Dwight Hall, described Keegan as pragmatic and skilled at accomplishing her goals. She was a “strong political leader who fought for progress and for political engagement,” Breen said.

Ben Stango ’11, Keegan’s predecessor as Dems president, said she advocated for the “type of progressive politics students should be engaged in” with passion and a “grass-rootsy political spirit.”

“Marina was motivated by the same impulse that drove her to write, to act, to invest in friends, and to improve her community — the impulse that insisted that all of us were destined to do something tremendous, and it ought to be something tremendously good for the world,” Alexandra Brodsky ’12, who helped organize Occupy Morgan Stanley, said in a Sunday email. “Marina, I think, saw clearer than most just how privileged we were, and thus how little stood in our way to doing great things — and so she demanded that greatness of herself and those around her.”

As with her efforts in advocacy and writing, Keegan approached her work in theater boldly.

Charlie Polinger ’13, who directed Keegan’s musical, “Independents,” last fall and will direct it at the New York International Fringe Festival production in August, said Keegan pursued ambitious goals in her creative work. He recalled how Keegan insisted a 10-minute monologue at the end of “Independents” be left uncut, though the creative team worried the piece would not engage its audience. The monologue “ended up being one of the most powerful parts of the show,” Polinger said.

Keegan’s close friends said she considered friendships and relationships a vital part of her life, and maintained them in spite of her numerous other commitments.

“The same insights and wits that made her a good writer made her so much fun to be around,” said Chloe Sarbib ’12. “She knew when you needed support or when you needed to be reminded you were good.”

Michael Blume ’12 and David Mogilner ’12 said Keegan was a prolific source of romantic advice for her friends. Blume said she “loved love,” while Mogilner described Keegan as the “first cheerleader” in her friends’ lives. Brodsky noted that, while Keegan was ambitious about her future career, she “very much wanted to fall in love with one person for her whole life and raise a family.”

Her death Saturday reverberated throughout the University.

Saybrook College Master Paul Hudak said all of his college is in shock, calling the event “an unbelievable tragedy.” Yale College Dean and former Saybrook College Master Mary Miller and her husband, Japanese literature professor and former interim Saybrook College Master Edward Kamens, said they were “devastated.”

Reached at his home Sunday afternoon, English professor and renowned literary critic Harold Bloom GRD ’56 said he had come to regard Keegan, his research assistant over the past two years, as a granddaughter. He called her death “beyond human comprehension.”

“Marina was wise, almost beyond measure, and manifested immense good will towards everyone privileged to have known her,” Bloom wrote in an email later that afternoon. “It is 60 years since I first came to Yale. I can think of only a few other women and men I have taught whose presence always will be with me.”

Keegan is survived by her parents, Tracy and Kevin, and brothers, Trevor and Pierce. Her family could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Clarification: May 28 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the job Keegan was planning to start at the New Yorker in June.


  • BR2013

    Her words always rang with such clarity, such lucidity. It was an honor meeting you Marina. Thank you for sharing a part of you with every piece that you wrote. My prayers are with your family tonight.

  • KHS2012

    When I have fears that I may cease to be / Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain, / Before high grav’d books, in charact’ry, / Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain; / When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face, / Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, / And think that I may never live to trace / Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance; / And when I feel, fair creature of an hour, / That I shall never look upon thee more, / Never have relish in the faery power / Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore / Of the wide world I stand alone, and think / Till Love and Fame to Nothingness do sink.
    RIP Marina

  • SteveBingham

    As the parents of Sylvia Bingham, Y09, killed less than 4 months after her graduation riding her bike to her new VISTA job in Cleveland, we extend our deepest condolences to Marina’s family. We truly know your pain. What an extraordinary young woman she obviously was. At least you may rest assured that her legacy will live on in the lives of all who were touched by Marina. Steve Bingham, YDN 64 and Francoise Blusseau

    • TNYLA

      Steve and Francoise,

      I was a high school classmate of Sylvia’s – we shared almost every class senior year, including English, where we sat next to each other. I think of Sylvia quite often and remember her with such awe, warm fondness and friendship, and tremendous respect. Most of all, I remember her as a beautiful writer.

      I visited my parents’ house this past weekend, and the memories of home prompted a wave of nostalgia. I dug out my TL yearbook, and there on the first page – front and center – Sylvia had drawn a hilarious portrait of me as a “mad scientist.” Beside the drawing she wished me good luck with “whatever I want to do in the world… be a ballerina or a mad scientist.” The sense of possibility it implied resonated deeply, then and now. At a precipice, a moment in our young lives so similar to that of which Marina writes, Sylvia, too, implored: “we can still do anything.”

      I work for The New Yorker now, where Marina was to begin her career in a matter of weeks, and the timing, the parallels, and the unshakable alignment of Marina and Sylvia’s joie de vivre feel like more than just coincidence. I could not let this moment pass without reiterating that, just as Marina will be, Sylvia is remembered every day. Through her writing, her art, her teaching and her friendship, her spirit lives on.


  • silverstarknight

    Marina, we know that wherever you are now you are blessed because you truly knew how to live in the moment. Thank you for the lessons you have given us in your brief time on this earth. Clearly there were greater plans in store for you; but it doesn’t make it any easier for any of us touched by your writing or your presence. We all wanted to be at that party when you were 30. I never met you, but your words meant so much. Thank you for sharing them with us while you were here. I know somewhere out there, you are feeling the love and respect we all share for you.

  • adriangal222

    Marina is in heaven with God with joy. My heart is broken for her family and friends. I pray for them and for Michael to recover his health and his sadness. I didnt know you Marina but I wish I did. SomedayI will get to meet you in heaven. Love from the mother of a Yale student

  • anonyale13

    Her short life has been on my mind lately:

  • frontrange

    Tragic end of such a promising life. Too horrible to contemplate.

  • bks235

    This is so horrible. I don’t even know this girl, but my God, what a talent she was. The world is a colder place without her. I hope she is in a better place. She clearly deserves to be.

  • Nato45

    I attended my 30th Reunion this week at Yale, and I am all the more thankful that we were able to be together. Marina’s piece on the opposite of loneliness was the connection that brings us back to those same people from that time 30 years ago. It is all the more reminder to not let those connections go, to make that phone call to someone you miss, to set up that reunion you keep putting off, to find the time for each other. I remember Rosey Thompson, ’84 who never made it to his graduation, killed in a car crash coming back from Spring Break after being named a Rhodes Scholar. Marina and Rosey, you touched thousands in your young lives. I admire your courage and your commitments. The rest of us can and should live stronger and fuller more connected lives because we have been touched directly or indirectly by your lives. Thank you and RIP. Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living-Mother Jones.

  • Yaleman

    What a lively, lovely lady. May her energy prevail.
    Here are the Marina Keegan you tubes

  • kittyp

    What a sad, untimely loss! And what a poignant essay – it takes me back over 31 years to that same place, and to those same thoughts – of time flying by too fast, of something precious vanishing forever, a visceral reality on the cusp of nostalgia. Of course, and Marina will tragically never know this, it is NOT the end of the world… time and experience gradually change our perspective, fulfill new dreams, give us new sources of wonder and joy… Keep the faith! RIP.


    I hope somehow the Keegan family, and Marina’s friends, see this, and that maybe it will help a little. In 2008 I died three times – I was pronounced dead the third time, only to be discovered barely alive four hours later. In those three times, “Near Death”, “On The Other Side”, whatever you wish to call it, there was no “Bright White Light”, or hand reaching down from the clouds for me – a la Thomas Cole’s “Voyages Of Life.” I never felt better, happier or more loved than on those three visits to, “The Other Side.” Why? While there, I reunited with friends, loved-ones and strangers who passed before me, and I met with friends, loved-ones and strangers I left behind… All of whom I learned things about that I could not have known without these meetings and reunions, “On The Other Side”, all verified by those involved or their loved ones since, much to everyone’s amazement, glee and even embarrassment at times. Every single person I reunited with, who passed before me, asked me to tell their loved ones the same thing… “Tell them that I am happy, healthy, pain and worry-free! I’m doing the best work, and having the most fun, I ever have. Tell them that I Love & Miss them, BUT, I am beside them always.” I am sure Marina feels the same way and is sending all of her loved-ones her love at this moment.

  • ecustu7

    Very well said……..we have lost a great writer, a great person, and a great mind. All we can hope for is that everyone takes her advice.

  • pcooperwhite

    Beautiful article. Thanks, YDN. As fellow parents of the class of 2012, whose daughter knew Marina, we send heartfelt condolences to the Keegan family! This is such a tragic loss, and our hearts go out to you! You are in our prayers. ~the Cooper-White family

  • seanmanton

    ‘For Marina Keegan’

    One Night,
    It got dark early…
    The Sun, it hurried home.
    The Moon was late as usual.
    The Stars, they called in sick.
    And You Marina,
    You left too soon.
    And Facing
    What was left of the light.

  • tharbin78

    Marina, What you have given, at the last stop of you’re young life, is the path to living. Encouragement, Motivation, the attitude that life and people are precious and worth working hard to see happy, must not be forgotten any time soon. I encourage Yale and other universities alike to post Marina’s Essay in their buildings so that the young people now and in generations to come will see life as it should be seen and never to forget. In my mind I call Marina’s words the ‘Keegan Doctrine’.
    Good words to live by. I know that you have been and are a inspiration to many. Thanks for bringing us back to whats important.

  • marykinney

    **i am 53 and still your words ring true. many thanks. and may flights of angels sing your words to many souls.**

  • Steve_Din

    I am sick beyond words over what has been lost. Here was a young woman with the potential to transform our culture–gone in an instant for no reason in a godless universe. It has awoken in me memories of Yale graduate Sarai Ribicoff ’79, senselessly murdered in Los Angeles, who I am sure–yes SURE–would today be either an essayist of transformative power, a senator like her uncle Abraham, or something even greater. The rest is silence.

  • terryhughes

    There should be a period of eulogy when the positive aspects of a life are emphasized.

    But some of Marina’s ideas being touted as true or insightful are seriously wrong. The Opposite of Loneliness:

    “What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”

    Well, no. And not just “no.” HELL NO. Yes, 22 is a tragically young age at which to die. But a 22 year old CANNOT “still do anything.” By that age many avenues – in the liberal arts and otherwise – have been closed.

    Once in a while a significant artist emerges at a relatively advanced age. Matisse was about 20 when his mother gave him his first box of oils while he was recuperating from an illness. Dubuffet was born in 1901 but only turned to art in 1942 (although even he painted from 1918 – 1924 and again in the 1930s, before abandoning it). But focusing on such exceptions is very dangerous. How many competitive swimmers does one meet who started swimming at 22? It is more than foolish to embark on a graduate school program unless one already has commitment, familiarity and practice in that area of study. Law school is the spiritual graveyard of too many who failed to realize that the time to focus is almost always before age 22.

    Marina’s writings miss much of the value of Yale even as she praised it. Didn’t do all the Yale reading? Don’t expect to do it after graduation, or to have access to people who will enable you to make sense of it. Yale enables. Choices and time DO matter. It will happen whether you want it to or not. Don’t deny.

    “Student Journalist Who Took On Wall St” wrote the New York Times. But Marina fronted the Occupy movement, a movement without coherent thought. It’s frenzied, incoherent hijinks degenerated into squalor and violence and disrespect, and were co-opted by manipulators. A naive pawn for cynics is not exemplary. The Occupods did not grasp that political activism is not properly theater because political activists affect the lives of others in ways that a theatrical production does not, and carries serious additional responsibilities.

    Much of the reported portion of Marina’s life seems wonderful, but also to contain a cautionary tale. Life is subject to far more limitations, parameters and choices than she wrote. There is a condition that inevitably afflicts those who disregard such limitations, parameters and choices the way Marina implored all young people (or at least her Yale classmates) to do: EXHAUSTION. People not keenly aware of their limitations tend to overplay their resources, usually resulting in frustration and sometimes in disaster.

    So let us mourn for Marina and eulogise her. But let us also keep our perspective.

    • Bues31fan

      We could take the Opposite of Loneliness, put it under a microscope, then dissect it, but what would be the point of doing that, what would be achieved by it and why cause it’s true message to be lost.

      It’s a fruitless exercise that ultimately would achieve nothing. Since you missed one valuable detail about her essay. While Marina wrote this for her classmates at Yale, for Yale it self, it has a message for anyone that reads it and I think she knew this. That’s what makes her so special.

      It’s why your seeing the reaction your having problems grasping and can’t understand. Not everyone is jealous, we just don’t all look for flaws, and we can see her message.

      It’s up to us to become inspired, to make this World a better place. God called her home way to soon, but before she left, she light a beacon, and it’s up to us to never ever let it burnout.

      Let me not ignore the fact, that her essay has One million reads and counting. It’s the most read news piece, since news first started being posted on-line. I also can’t over look the fact, since I fall in this category, she’s touched total strangers lives with her words and both of these things, play a role in the reaction to her essay.

      • terryhughes

        I never met her, but Marina appears to have been a highly intelligent, beautiful, energetic young person with plenty of talent and a lot to learn. It’s tragic she won’t have the chance to do that.

  • Dreamless242

    Rest in Peace, Marina. From Germany.

  • windstar00

    Marina’s article, “Even artichokes have doubts” is amazing a truly a tribute to exactly the type of person she was. She obviously was much wiser than her years and I hope there are more people like her in this world. The future may be a brighter place after all if Marina’s articles make people ponder about such important things before making a hasty decision. We feel so much pressure to make decisions that often they are not the wisest. I hope that if we all thought like Marina did this world will be a better place for everyone.

  • margherita

    Terra tibi levis sit, Marina.

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