In November 2011, I wrote a post about a Yale senior named Marina Keegan who had authored an eloquent and passionate lament about the number of her
colleagues classmates going into investment banking.
Keegan wrote in the NYT’s Dealbook,
..That such a large percentage of students at top-tier schools enter an industry that isn’t contributing, creating or improving much of anything saddens me.
Twenty-five percent is not a joke. That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of talent and energy and potential that could be used somewhere other than crunching numbers to generate wealth.
…Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I think most young, ambitious people want to have a positive impact on the world.
I don’t entirely agree with that absolute criticism of investment banking—some bankers do invest in new businesses or help people invest their hard-earned money—but I loved that Keegan wrote so well about an unfortunate phenomenon: the number of Ivy League grads who sell out. I emailed Keegan and told her so, and told her that she had an open door to write for Worth after she graduated; in the modern way of things, we became Facebook friends.
So I was particularly saddened to hear of her death last weekend in an automobile accident just days after graduation. She and her boyfriend were headed to Cape Cod. He was driving, and according to some news reports, fell asleep at the wheel. The car hit the right guardrail, bounced off, rolled over twice, then hit the left guard rail. The boyfriend is okay. Keegan was killed.
(What does he do after such a thing? I can not imagine.)
Much has been made of “The Opposite of Loneliness,” an essay Keegan wrote for the Yale Daily News, which the paper republished after her death, and it is indeed lovely and wistful and wise and heartbreakingly young at the same time.
…let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York. I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old.
But my interests being what they are, I have a particular appreciation for this short essay of Keegan’s, “Why We Care about Whales,” which tells of her experience trying to save stranded pilot whales on a Cape Cod beach.
…In their final moments, they begin belching and erupting in violent thrashing. Finally, their jaws open slightly — not all the way, but just enough that the characteristic illusion of a perpetual smile disappears. This means it’s over.
…I put my hands on his nose and placed my face in front of his visible eye. I knew he was going to die, and he knew he was going to die, and we both understood that there was nothing either of us could do about it.
Beached whales die on their sides, one eye pressed into the sand, the other facing up and forced to look at the moon, at the orb that pulled the water out from under its fins.
There’s no echolocation on land. I imagined dying slowly next to my mother or a lover, helplessly unable to relay my parting message. I remember trying to convince myself that everything would be fine. But he wouldn’t be fine….
Perhaps I should have been comforting one of them, placing my hands on one of their shoulders. Spending my time and my money and my life saving those who walked on two legs and spoke without echoes.
The moon pulled the waters forward and backward, then inward and around my ankles. Before I could find an answer, the whale’s jaw unclenched, opening slightly around the edges.
It’s a beautiful and thoughtful piece of writing, again combining a precocious wisdom and that kind of heart-on-her-sleeve passion that Keegan manifested elsewhere.
Marina Keegan was going to intern at The New Yorker this summer. At the age of 22, she was a terrific writer and the kind of person that an Ivy League university should graduate. That we will never see what she would have become is a great loss.