Journalism

“Let’s make something happen to this world”

Marina Keegan (Facebook via Yale Daily News)

While scanning Twitter two hours ago, I stumbled upon a column written by a Yale graduate — her last published by the Yale Daily News.

She got in a car accident on her way home from her commencement ceremony.

It was the last thing she ever wrote.

That hit me pretty hard.

Sitting here two hours and a reading assignment later, it hit me harder.

I got a double-shot of inspiration that only comes around once in a great while. So, there goes the neighborhood. With only the glow of my computer screen lighting my otherwise-vacant study lounge, it’s my keyboard and me again tonight.

No, that’s not a euphemism.

I read a story about Esquire’s Chris Jones a while back. Not out of laziness, but from wanton to preserve my initial memory, I’m not going to look it up.

I recall him saying we only get a certain amount of words in our lives and that we need to need to make the most out of all of them.

Keeping that in mind, the thought of any writer dying is semi-horrific, no matter tragedy or old age.

For anyone who has ever told their editor, “Five more minutes” five times in a row, pounded out a clean inch of copy per minute before making deadline at some unhealthy hour or slaved over a feature for several days, rewriting its lead seven times only to decide on its original phrasing, the thought of writing your last words is the most painstaking of assignments.

When Marina Keegan, the Yale graduate, sat down to write her final column for the YDN, she would have never thought it’d be her last. She may have been headed off to a new position where she’d pop out a similar story within a week, or bounced around between internships for the next 12 months, longing for the opportunity to publish her thoughts as she used to once again.

Maybe she sat down several times over the course of a week, writing and rewriting to the point of mental exhaustion, aiming for the absolute perfection, which, of course, would never be achieved. Or, equally as likely, she plopped down on her couch one night after a long day at school/work/life and wrote what came to mind. The product was clean. Crisp, rather. Exactly what she wanted to say.

She wanted to tell the student body she cherished to embrace what they had. She wanted them to remember the things that, by and large, aren’t worth remembering, because those were the moments she would crave so wholeheartedly when she left.

I don’t know a single thing about this woman, except that she’s probably brilliant, being that she made it though four years at Yale, and that I enjoyed the one column of hers I ever read.

But I’m going to wander out on the skinny branch we all wanted to venture onto when we were eager, tree-climbing kids, and say that she will forever remember her college memories in their purest form.

They won’t be tainted with retrospective disdain, aged wisdom or finely crafted exaggerations, but will be exactly how she wants them to be remembered: perfectly.

If someone were to sit me down with a gun to my head and tell me I had to write my last story, I would write it about myself.

The process would be brutal. I’d obsess over every word, gnaw at every sentence and thumb through my virtual thesaurus to perfect every paragraph.

It would take days upon days, stretch into weeks and verge on the edge of months. But then I would lift my hands from my keyboard and know that my legacy, my message, my heartfelt beliefs were left behind for those who would take my place in this world.

I’d be happy in that moment. I wouldn’t wince or cringe. It’d be oddly perfect.

The real tragedy is that this young woman never had that moment. She was never able to put her hands behind her head, kick her shoeless feet up on her desk and take one last content sigh of relief.

But the beauty of it all is that she spelled out her legacy without the internal battle that comes from writing her last words. Even better is the fact that she absolutely nailed it.

I’ve never met Marina, but I could hear her voice in her writing. I guess that’s what last words are supposed to sound like.

“It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.” — Marina Keegan, Class of ’12

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My name is Jim Ryan, and I'm a breaking news reporter for The Oregonian and OregonLive in Portland. I'm an Ohio University graduate from Gaylord, Michigan.

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