I never knew Marina Keegan ’12, but like so many students, I know her story. A promising young journalist and writer, she saw her life tragically cut short in a car crash just days after her graduation.
Yet for someone I’ve never met, Marina and I share a bond that is difficult to explain. For one, we charted remarkably similar paths during our time at Yale. Both of us wrote columns for the News, and both of us would eventually serve as president of the Yale College Democrats.
But more than sharing titles, I’ve connected most strongly with her writing. From her columns, I learned Marina was a thinker. Unfazed by the daily grind of Yale life, she wrote pieces as whimsical as her’s on why we connect so well with whales and as logical as her piece demanding that Connecticut’s General Assembly should decriminalize marijuana. She wrote the seminal work for our generation of Yale students in her column, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” and the thoughtful reflection of what Wall Street has done to the Yale educational experience in another one of her pieces for the News, “Even Artichokes Have Doubts.” Her words resonated far beyond New Haven, and through her work, she proved that ideas can make an impact.
But while the rest of the world continues to see through the eyes of her ideas, I’ve had the added privilege of seeing who Marina was through her work. The woman The New York Times described only as the “Student Journalist Who Took on Wall Street,” I knew as the events coordinator, elections coordinator and, eventually, president of the Yale College Democrats.
And from the documents she’s left behind with us, I’ve also learned that Marina very much understood the value of getting things done. In “action plans” passed down with each new leadership cycle, future presidents will see Marina’s obsession over the details of everything from how to run a successful political event to how to get out the vote on Election Day. They’ll see her detailing her plans for “a more sophisticated car service” to aggressive demands that the Dems develop “effective canvassing and phone-banking workshops.”
In the pages of her book, Marina is a dreamer. But in the manuals she left with me, she is a ruthless pragmatist.
I think her life means so much to me because Marina embodied the synthesis of thoughtful reflection and meaningful action. She recognized the importance of contributing boldly to public discourse through her writing, but she was also pragmatic enough to know that nothing gets done without someone willing to obsess over the details of implementation.
And with such a powerful connection to this life I never saw in the flesh, I have felt, over the last few years, an odd compulsion to keep Marina’s legacy alive. Take this fall, for example. The Yale College Dean’s Office wanted Freshman Counselors like me to talk to our freshmen about building a positive community at Yale during the last of our daily meetings. I probably should have stuck to the script, but I couldn’t shake the urge to share with my freshmen what I loved so much about this place, what made me want to become a FroCo in the first place.
So half an hour before our meeting, I went to the library and printed out 16 copies of a column I’ve read dozens of times before. And together, my freshmen and I read every word of “The Opposite of Loneliness” aloud, paragraph by paragraph, word by word.
The tragedy of Marina’s story is that she left this world too soon. But the beauty of it is that she left all of us with an instruction manual complete with her insight into how to live a purpose-filled life — one that engages with ideas and then has the resolve to put those ideas to action.
Marina helped define my Yale experience in ways she never would have imagined. So in my final year, I’m determined to keep her spirit and influence alive for the next generation of Yalies.
Tyler Blackmon is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at email@example.com .