About six years ago I wrote the following article based on a letter to a friend of mine who was about to give a commencement speech. For those us who have done that on more than a few occasions, we know that it’s hard to come up with something that’s worth listening to at a graduation when the focus should be on the graduates, not some speaker, some sage on the stage. So, I usually talked to them about what I gleaned from working with them in one way or another and if not them directly, kids just like them in other parts of the country. I won’t bore you with that here except to say that they seemed to listen politely with more than feigned interest. A good story or two helped. Imagine the Commencement ceremonies at Parkland coming up soon!
In a recent column for the Yale News, she wrote, “I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness…But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us….We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re 22 years old. We have so much time.”
She concluded, “We’re in this together, 2012. Let’s make something happen to this world.”
Keegan was right about a lot. But she did not have “so much time.” Five days after graduating, she died in a car crash. She was wearing a seat belt.
As I read her words, I wept. I cried for her, her family, and for the good that she probably would have done. Perhaps in death, she will help others. She wrote a final essay that appeared in the Yale Daily News Her final essay here: https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2012/05/27/keegan-the-opposite-of-loneliness/
Here is what I said to Joe. Good thoughts, all, and I share your grief at losing someone like Marina Keegan and so many others who, it would seem to us and our limited judgment, leave us prematurely before they were able to share more of who they were. That’s why I don’t hold out much for “the best is yet to come” and I’ll tell you why. All that we know that we have for sure is this moment, perhaps today and even the rest of today can be uncertain, for life is fragile, unpredictable and can be extinguished in a heartbeat, so to speak. However, we don’t live on the edge of that. We live with hope.
I interviewed hundreds of high school students across the country and most of them were living for tomorrow, or the future, and getting ready for what is next. As I pursued those conversations, it seemed that so much of what they were thinking about and doing was future-oriented whether going to college, getting a job, starting a family, buying a house, making money, retiring early, etc, pursuing the American Dream. When I said to them that it seemed to me they were going to spend most of their life getting ready to die they looked and sounded shocked. Well, I said, it seems to me like you’re always getting ready for whatever is next.
I asked how about living fully in the present? Give all that you can today, this week, this month, this year, to this work that you’re doing now and live much more in the here and now, how about that? Hmmm, new concept to many! We all know kids like Marina – talented, gifted and who leave their mark in one way or another. Think about those kids whose lives were snuffed out by a bullet. It is a tragedy we have visited much too often in these past six years, and before that too.
What I want to say is that we are grateful to them, to their families and to their teachers for what they have contributed, for however long they were with us. And we are grateful for these kids who have survived and who are dedicating themselves to positive change, to making our world safer, healthier and a more peaceful place to live and love. Thank you from all of us