Marina Keegan was determined to become a writer. Nothing could discourage her, not even novelist Mark Helprin discussing how he thought “making it as a writer today was virtually impossible.” She believed that her generation could change the world—that it didn’t have to just be as it always was. Keegan graduated from Yale on May 21, 2012 with an unbelievable resume, ready to take on the world. Five days later, she was killed in a car accident on the way to her father’s birthday. She may have never gotten the chance to go on to change the world through her writing, but Keegan still left behind her stories, so insightful beyond her years, yet filled with the sometimes unrealistic optimism and idealism of her (and our) generation.
Keegan’s commencement reflection for the Yale Daily News, titled “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral following her death, and for good reason. She spoke to the possibilities, to the youth we almost forget, to the should-haves and could-haves, the reality that our dreams are impossibly high, and that it’s okay. Two years later, with the help of professors, mentors, and classmates, Keegan’s parents published a collection of essays that Marina had written over the years.
Keegan’s writing, while occasionally laced with the dream-like hope and positivity typical of youth, holds plaintive words that only render heartbreaking with the knowledge of her death; the mentions of her future children, a story of the death of a college student, all the gluten she will finally eat on her deathbed. The Opposite of Loneliness is compiled of fiction and nonfiction with emotions ranging from saddening to hopeful to disturbing. Stories of a submarine of people trapped undersea with no way up, the life and its meaning of a bug exterminator, the slow death of dozens of whales on the beach outside of the Keegan’s Cape Cod home all seem so distant and unrelatable for the majority of us 20-somethings. Somehow, we can find meaning in Keegan’s writing. Then there are her pieces on her first car; college students in love, dealing with family, and going through loss; and what comes beyond graduation and who we are.
Through The Opposite of Loneliness, maybe we can learn something, or begin to think: Who are we? Who do we want to be? What does this all mean? Marina Keegan is compelling us to truly consider the people we want to be, consider what it is that will be on our business cards saying “HELLO THIS IS WHAT I DO.” She is compelling us to believe that it is okay to not know what we want or where we are going. After all, “We’re so young. We’re so young. . . . We have so much time.”