In May 2012, graduating Yale senior Marina Keegan wrote a remarkable piece titled “The Opposite of Loneliness,” that ran in the commencement edition of the university’s student newspaper. There are a few pieces of writing that I have bookmarked and revisit on occasion — this is one of them.
Keegan wrote about the defining moments that fill our college years — years that feel fleeting and timeless all at once. Keegan reminded us of the decisions we made, and those we didn’t, that changed us equally as much. She reminded us of the nights we felt unapologetically alive. She reminded us that we’ll never get these years back, but makes us think maybe we wouldn’t even if we could. Because, for us, this fabric of time has been woven by the people we’ve met and by our experiences at Michigan; and despite the inevitable knots in the thread, it’s ours and it’s unique and it’s perfect in its imperfection. It’s what we will take with us moving forward from this place.
“We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old,” Keegan wrote. “We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lay alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out — that it is somehow too late … I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old.”
Keegan was killed in a car accident days after her graduation from Yale.
The 22 year-young daughter, sister, friend, exceptional wordsmith and soon-to-be editorial assistant at The New Yorker, was in the passenger seat of her boyfriend’s car when it hit a guardrail and flipped on a Cape Cod highway. She was on the way to her father’s birthday dinner.
Keegan’s legacy will live on in the pieces she wrote with authority, about the life she witnessed. The one in which she did, she went, she saw, she laughed, she felt.
Many of us have touched lives that ended too soon. Perhaps, some of us have barely escaped death ourselves.
If I had left the house moments earlier … If I hadn’t changed plans…
Whether they’re ours or someone else’s, we all have stories to remind us that time is precious.
For me, Keegan’s is one.
As I write this, sunshine and fresh air are pouring through the open windows of my house, and I’m listening to my friends laughing on our front porch. It’s the same mix of laughter that fills our family room on Sunday mornings, when we lethargically gather to piece together the events of the night before. For the moment, I’m taking in the distinct mélange of their laughs, because I know in a month I’ll be hearing it much less often.
This is the mindset so many of us seniors have come to adopt in recent weeks. We’re appreciating this place and the people here more than we ever have before. The bonds we’ve nurtured since freshman year. The way ivy always stood out against old brick and tarnished copper. The times we surprised each other. The walk down Hoover Street on a brisk Saturday afternoon. The nights we chose a good time over a slightly better grade. The professor who taught us a lot more than grammar.
In reflecting on it, though, I can’t help but wonder what it is about the human condition that allows us only to fully appreciate the passing of a time or chapter of our lives as it comes to an end. Maybe it’s only when the time is short that we come to fully embrace what we’ve had. Maybe this mindset can’t be adopted when we think we have so much time.
But maybe we don’t. Keegan won’t host parties when she’s 30. She won’t have fun when she’s old. She won’t live out these and other dreams mentioned in her final piece.
Class of 2014 — we won’t be second-semester seniors for much longer. Soon, the whirlwind of celebrating what we’ve accomplished these four years will be over. We’ll collect our diplomas, subsequently turn the page and begin the next chapter on May 4 — scared and unprotected, but preparedly. Let’s do our best to maintain this mindset, though. To take in defining moments for what they are — despite where they occur in our stories. Because, to quote Keegan, “…let’s get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us.” Though perhaps, every once in awhile, we’ll glance over our shoulders at what we’ve left behind.
Sara Morosi can be reached at smorosi.