The Opposite of Loneliness: Marina Keegan’s Sentiments for the Student

Posted By Emily McClemont, GD Creative Nonfiction Reader for 5.2

“Sparkl[ing] with talent, humanity, and youth.” (O, The Oprah Magazine).

In May of 2012, Marina Keegan graduated magna cum laude from Yale University. She lost her life in a car accident shortly after. Two years following Keegan’s death, a collection of her short stories and essays was published. A New York Times bestseller and Goodreads Choice Awards in Nonfiction (2014) winner, The Opposite of Loneliness conveys, as Keegan’s former mentor, Harold Bloom states, Keegan’s request for the student generation “to invest their youthful pride and exuberance both in self-development and in the improvement of our tormented society.”

Nearing the end of my undergraduate career and in a time of political turmoil, I find myself returning to the words of Marina Keegan. Keegan’s nationally renowned title essay is filled with words written for her peers. As she states, “it’s easy to feel like…this sense of possibility…This immense and indefinable potential energy” that I, like many first-year college students experienced, has “slipped away.” And as I, like many third- and fourth-year college students, ponder the uncertainties that will undoubtedly present themselves post graduation, find comfort and consolation in Keegan’s call to arms: “We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have…Let’s make something happen to this world.”

Keegan’s reminder of the “possibility” rooted in students is further embedded in her essay, “Even Artichokes Have Doubts,” as excerpted in the Financial Times. The piece communicates the prevalence of students entering the “consulting or finance industry” as an “easy-to-apply-to, decently paying” default job. Keegan, through concern, more so than criticism, communicates her “worries” surrounding the “industry that’s taking all [her] friends and telling them this is the best way…to be spending their time.” Her notion that the banking industry is preventing young professionals from exploring their “immense passion and creativity” is communicated through her reminder that, as students, we should not forget our capability to  “do something really cool to this world.”

The remainder of Keegan’s works range in subject matter and offer, as editor Deborah Treisman states, a “literary voice…imbued with unusual insight, nuance, humor, and sensitivity.” From “Cold Pastoral’s” fictionalized tribulations of a young adult romance (“We were involved, of course, but not associated”) to a depiction of the time she and a friend spent in India (“…we discovered our celebrity before our passports were stamped… ‘One photo, one photo,’ they’d coo…we were dizzied into frame after frame with beaming locals…”), as found in “The Art of Observation,” Keegan’s collection of writing inspires first-year students and graduates, alike, to preserve their sense of possibility.

The Opposite of Loneliness stands as a testament to Keegan’s “…talent, humanity, and youth,” as relevance is found within her authentic language and refreshing views. As I prepare to face the uncertainty and immense possibilities ahead, I turn to Keegan’s reminders of the potential students hold. Her encouragement to “make something happen to this world” inspires me to preserve my creativity.

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