Skip to main content

Yale grad's inspiring life over too soon

By Joshua Levs, CNN
May 31, 2012 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Marina Keegan died in a car crash Saturday. Her life, Josh Levs says, is a lesson in the importance of reaching for dreams.
Marina Keegan died in a car crash Saturday. Her life, Josh Levs says, is a lesson in the importance of reaching for dreams.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Josh Levs: Marina Keegan, a new Yale grad off to promising future, was killed in crash
  • He says she embodied idea of reaching for, achieving dreams; was writer, playwright
  • He says some fellow grads who hoped for great things found life intervened
  • Levs: Keegan's life an example of following instincts, passion, valuing friends and family

Editor's note: Josh Levs reports across all platforms for CNN. He lays out keys to achieving dreams in his TEDx Talk, "Breaking the system to achieve the impossible." Find him on Facebook or Twitter.

(CNN) -- It's astounding how fast the words of a 22-year-old woman, her life suddenly cut short, have spread across the Internet and into the hearts and minds of people all over the world.

Marina Keegan, a budding writer, was once published by the New York Times and had a job lined up at the New Yorker. Also a playwright, she had a musical slated for a staging in August at the New York International Fringe Festival.

She wrote a moving essay in the Yale Daily News to inspire her fellow seniors as they graduated last week. She died in a car crash a few days later.

That column, in which she strives to remind her peers that "we have so much time," has taken on a tragic, powerful resonance.

Discussing the "immense and indefinable potential energy" many felt as freshmen, she wrote that it's important to remember "we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. ... We're so young. We can't, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it's all we have."

The loss of Keegan is heartbreaking for many reasons. One of them is that she surely would have been among the too few people in the world who chase their dreams and bring them to fruition.

I know what it is to feel the "sense of possibility" she described. I felt it when I was at Yale in the '90s. Since then, I've lived by it. I've also had time to see what distinguishes those who chase dreams from those who give up.

Two friends of mine, fellow Yalies who graduated in different years and don't know each other, told me that in the years after college, they felt "betrayed" by some friends who had wonderful plans for the future and swiftly gave up on them. People who didn't harness their creativity to carve new paths. People who became focused on making more and more money and little else, who never took chances, because they got too busy, more interested in wealth or stature than doing something amazing, or just forgot about those dreams.

Josh Levs
Josh Levs

In each case, I asked my friend how that amounted to betrayal. And each gave me the same answer: The plans we had for the future weren't just plans or hopes. They were a pact. We would take the education and incredible opportunities we had been given and go out and fight for a better world in new ways. Separately, together.

It's what Keegan touched on in her last line to her class: "We're in this together, 2012. Let's make something happen to this world."

As I've written before, the world needs more visionaries. From electricity to vaccines to Hubble, everything humanity has created that improves our lives exists because dreamers pursued their visions.

It's not easy, and it can become harder as you grow up and have families dependent on you. Life exhausts and distracts you into shelving aspirations. Making them happen is hard work. But it's incomparably rewarding.

There is every reason to believe that Keegan would have fought for hers. It's clear in her writing.

Written from the perspective of a young woman at the dawn of her adult life, her words are a stunning bookend to something David Brooks wrote about in October in the New York Times: a collection of short autobiographies that members of the Yale class of 1942 wrote for their 50th reunion.

People who "passively let their lives happen to them" lamented "how boring they must seem," while others "regret the risk not taken," Brooks wrote.

"The most exciting essays were written by the energetic, restless people, who took their lives off in new directions midcourse."

Anyone with an unfulfilled dream would do well to keep that in mind -- and should read Keegan's column, because it applies to them as well.

The essays by people who "felt summoned to do one thing," Brooks added, "ring with passion and conviction."

That's about instincts, which are ultimately the key to chasing dreams and the biggest driver for those of us who don't give up. We let ourselves tune out everything else and listen to what our instincts are telling us we have to do. That's why nothing can stop us.

It's easy to imagine that nothing would have stopped Keegan.

Her death is also a reminder of a daily tragedy. While U.S. fatalities in car crashes are decreasing, far too many families and friends know the pain of such loss.

Keegan, above all else, valued family and friends. In this, she seemed wise beyond her years. I was -- like many other ambitious young people -- so focused on career goals, it took me years to gain the perspective she had and live by the knowledge that the loved ones you surround yourself with are by far the most important thing in life.

"We don't have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that's what I want in life," she wrote.

Yale graduates from 70 years before her say the same. "For almost all, family and friends mattered most," Brooks wrote.

Keegan's words give us all reason to remember the world of possibilities before us and to make sure we're valuing time with loved ones. In her death, she just may be inspiring people to live better, deeper, more exciting lives -- with "passion and conviction."

And that's unforgettable.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Josh Levs.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Mary Allen says because of new research and her own therapy, she no longer carries around the fear of her mother, which had turned into a generalized fear of everything
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1959 GMT (0359 HKT)
Gilbert Gottfried says the comedian was most at home on the comedy club stage, where he was generous to his fellow stand-up performers
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 2054 GMT (0454 HKT)
Iris Baez, whose son was killed by an illegal police chokehold, says there must be zero tolerance for police who fatally shoot or otherwise kill unarmed people such as Michael Brown
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
Maria Cardona says as he seeks a path to the presidency, the Kentucky Senator is running from his past stated positions. But voters are not stupid--and they know how to use the internet
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 0219 GMT (1019 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the shock at the actor and comedian's death comes from its utter implausibility. For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing could stop.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Soledad O'Brien says the story of two veterans told in a documentary airing on CNN shows the challenges resulting from post-traumatic stress
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT