Marina Keegan's Parents Tell Boyfriend: Honor Her by 'Embracing Life'

Promising writer headed for New Yorker dies days after Yale graduation.

May 30, 2012, 9:45 PM

May 31, 2012—, 2012 -- Kevin Keegan and his wife, Tracy Keegan, were preparing to celebrate his 55th birthday and eagerly awaiting the homecoming of their daughter Marina and a college boyfriend they hoped to get to know better, just days after the two graduated from Yale University.

But instead a state trooper arrived at the Keegan's door to deliver devastating news: There had been a car crash and Marina Keegan, who had a promising position as an editorial assistant at The New Yorker magazine ahead of her, was dead.

"I was waiting with my lobster and birthday cake, which she loved," said Kevin Keegan. "I couldn't understand why after a week she wasn't home. Why can't she just be back?"

Marina Keegan and Michael Gocksch were en route to the Keegans' summer house in Wellfleet, Mass., when Gocksch lost control of the car. The Lexus hit a guard rail, spun across the road to hit the opposite guard rail, then rolled over twice, according to the Cape Cod Times.

Gocksch was uninjured, but Keegan died at the scene.

This week her prophetic and inspirational essay, "The Opposite of Loneliness," with its heart-wrenching lines "We're so young. We're so young. We're 22 years old. We have so much time" has gone viral.

The piece had appeared in a special graduation issue of the Yale Daily News days before her death on May 26.

Read Marina Keegan's "Opposite of Loneliness."

Her parents, still raw with emotion, cried and laughed over memories as they drove back from Yale, where they had heard tributes from students and faculty, and told ABC that they had taken comfort in the way their daughter continued to inspire other young people with her idealistic voice, now immortalized in her writing.

They had transcended the horrible circumstances of their daughter's death to forgive and console Gocksch, who was driving the car.

"She was very in love," said Tracy Keegan, 54. "She loved the Cape and the water and wanted to share her favorite place. I had never seen her so happy. She so loved and admired him."

Gocksch was an American studies major, "the most well-read" man Marina Keegan said she had ever met, according to her mother. Keegan served as president of the Yale College Democrats, and Gocksch was its vice president.

"How are we doing?" asked her mother. "We are just running on adrenaline, just guessing the value of trying to honor a soul like Marina's. I can hear her now: 'Just don't screw up this interview.' She was the one with the eloquent soul.

"She absolutely kept a constellation of friends and people whom she loved," said Tracy Keegan. "She was also a deep thinker. She would go about her everyday things and then something would strike her, and she would need to work it out and understand it in a larger way -- to pull back from the current to a larger picture, like most of us never do."

Their daughter cared about whales (and wrote about it), the legalization of same-sex marriage, the decriminalization of marijuana and helping college-bound undocumented immigrants realize their dreams, according to her parents.

Active in the Occupy Morgan Stanley campaign, Keegan told her mother she was proudest of her essay, "Even Artichokes Have Doubts," an analysis of why so many Ivy League graduates abandon their dreams and end up in finance that was published in both the Yale Daily News and The New York Times.

"This fall when she was a senior, she called and said, 'Mom, I got a call from a recruiter who wanted to pay me $100 to meet with him for one hour to talk to me about working for a consulting company or a hedge fund. Why are they calling me? I'm an English major?' Then she realized, 'Wait a minute, they're calling everybody.'"

Keegan knew she could have a "great impact" as a writer, according to her father, and by "making a difference."

Max de La Bruyere, a rising senior from Alberta, Canada, and editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News, said Keegan's writing and activism "really challenged people to think."

They took a creative writing class together and De La Bruyere was in awe of her talent. "Every piece she shared, and I was amazed at how well she was with words and thoughts," he said. "The quality of her writing was off the charts."

Marina Keegan's Legacy Was Her Writing

Her play, "Utility Monster," won best stage reading in a playwriting festival in Manhattan, according to her mother. In it, she struggled with values and life's meaning: "How can I justify eating at Taco Bell if it can save a child in Africa? Is it indulgent for me to buy art?"

"The only solace for what happened [to Keegan] is she was able to leave a written legacy so vivid," said De La Bruyere.

Keegan wrote a full-length musical, called "Independents," with lyrics by close friend and classmate Mark Sonnenblick, which is slated to go up at the New York Fringe Festival in August.

The story, about 20-something slackers living and working together on a Revolutionary War re-enactment ship and running drugs, is a comedic look at the transition to adulthood.

"She was always writing about things she thought about, wondering is there a network of friends who can sustain you or ultimately hold you back from being an adult," said Sonnenblick, who is from Manhattan Beach, Calif.

He and other collaborators spent the last week on Cape Cod, supporting the Keegans and revising the play.

"Her voice is there on the page and in our head," he said. "It's a fact she won't be around to see it or participate in the process, something that just hasn't sunk in."

Friends like Amalia Skilton said Keegan could "be wild" like other college kids, but she also had a sense of fairness and little ego.

Skilton worked with Keegan in the Democratic primary elections for city council in New Haven, Conn. When it looked as if their candidate would run unopposed, Skilton was elated, but Keegan didn't see it the same way.

"She really cared about having a conversation and people thinking critically about what they were doing," said Skilton, a senior from Phoenix. "That hurt her candidate, but it's what set her apart from so many at Yale. She did it not to glorify herself."

The Keegans, who have raised their children in suburban Wayland, Mass., were good role models for their daughter and her two brothers, Pierce, a junior at Wayland High School, and Trevor, 25, who runs a small business.

They describe themselves as "humanists."

Tracy Keegan had worked in film production, but turned her efforts to raising three children and charity work.

Kevin Keegan spent 25 years as an executive in software sales, then became an eighth-grade social studies teacher, a career change his daughter was proud of. When the economy turned, he was laid off and has returned to sales.

As a child, Marina was diagnosed with celiac disease. She later became the poster child for an educational DVD her mother created on behalf of children afflicted with chronic illness. "It was rough," said Tracy Keegan,

Despite health obstacles, Marina went on to politics in high school, and was one of the youngest interns in the 2008 campaign to elect Barack Obama. In college, she traveled to India on a Cyrus Vance International Scholarship.

The "seeds" of her passion came from her family, who emphasized "the right thing to do, to help your community," said Kevin Keegan.

For the Keegans, the right thing to do was to help Gocksch, who was "devastated" by Keegan's death and his role in the accident.

When Gocksh came to see the Keegans several days ago, they gave him a hug. "We said this horrible accident was her fate," said Tracy Keegan. "Unfortunately, she could not throw two lives away, and she loved you."

"You can't go off course," Kevin Keegan told him. "To honor her, you need to live your life -- to make a difference for others, to embrace life as she did."

The Keegans believe their daughter was "wise beyond her years" and made a mark on a campus that won't forget her.

"She inspired young people to make a difference and to realize that they can roll up their sleeves and do something," said Tracy Keegan. "This is their world, their future."

Still, they are numb by the loss. "We loved her," said Kevin Keegan. "As a father, I selfishly wanted more time with her."

On Class Day before graduation, the speaker, ABC's Barbara Walters, asked Keegan's class how many students had "found your bliss in life?" Only a few raised their hands.

"The point was that not everyone had a clue about true inspiration," said Tracy Keegan. After the speech, her daughter confessed to her mother, "I was one of the people who raised their hands."

Kevin Keegan's last memory of his daughter is graduation weekend at Yale. As his wife stayed on to pack up, he said goodbye on a street corner.

"I told her I was so proud of her and loved her and I had a tear in my eye," he said. "I told her how much it all meant to me and got in the car, like I always do and started beeping the horn and yelling. She was smiling."

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