Marina Keegan's Words Live On, One Year After Her Death

PHOTO: Kevin and Tracy Keegan kiss their daughter Marina at her graduation from Yale in May, 2012. She was killed days later in a car crash.PlayCourtesy Tracy & Kevin Keegan
WATCH Yale Graduate's Essay Resonates After Death

In the year since the death of 23-year-old activist writer Marina Keegan in a car crash, her mother said the power of her daughter's words sustain her and continue to inspire others in the art world and beyond.

"My daughter totally inspired me and moved me," Tracy Keegan, 55, of Wayland, Mass., told "Her words are how she will live on, and it's really important to me."

Marina had just graduated from Yale University, where her prophetic and inspirational essay, "The Opposite of Loneliness," appeared in a special graduation issue of the campus newspaper.

READ: Marina Keegan's "Opposite of Loneliness."

After her death on May 26, 2012, the celebrated writer's haunting words: "We're so young. We're so young. We're 22 years old. We have so much time" went viral.

Marina and her boyfriend, Michael Gocksch, were driving to the Keegan's summer house in Wellfleet, Mass., when the car hit a guard rail and spun across the road, rolling over twice. He survived, but she died instantly.

"It's been an unbelievably hard journey for all of us and of course, Michael," she said. "I am plodding along -- she would not want us to stop living. But it's unbelievably hard and Mother's Day was tough."

In the months since, Tracy and her husband Kevin Keegan, a cyber threat specialist, and their two sons, 18 and 26, have received hundreds of messages from around the world.

"Her words actually pushed people to make positive changes in their world view -- not only in their head, but their actions," said Keegan. "That to me is her legacy. As her mother, I really feel that my daughter continues her work as long as her words reach people."

And now Marina's sense of optimism and social justice will be memorialized in the national premier of her play, "Utility Monster," at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater -- opening on the anniversary weekend of her death.

The play, written while she was a sophomore at Yale, is about two idealistic 15-year-olds who realize that 35,000 children die of hunger each day, and for only the price of a lunch at Taco Bell, two could be saved.

"This is a play that can change lives," said Dan Lombardo, artistic director for the theater, who met Kevin Keegan by accident and learned his daughter was a playwright. He asked to see the script.

"I knew immediately I was reading someone who was extra-gifted," said Lombardo. "I get hundreds of scripts a year from well-known playwrights … It's rare that a play comes in this brilliant."

The car accident hit the small Cape Cod community "so hard," he said. "It just leaves us utterly bereft, and I cannot imagine what it is like for a parent to lose a child -- and then turn it around in a way that we have something tangible we can do to celebrate her genius."

"Utility Monster" was written while Marina was at Yale and produced in 2011 by the Yale Dramatic Association (DRAMAT), the first student show in four years.

Throughout her college years, she had been mentored by playwrights Donald Margulies and Deborah Margolin. Writer and critic Harold Bloom considered her an "unofficial granddaughter," according to the family.

Just before her death, Marina had been offered a full-time job on the editorial staff at The New Yorker.

Marina's musical, "Independents," also written at Yale, won best overall production at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2012 as well as a New York Times Critics Award.

Additionally, a collection of Marina's writings will be published by Scribner and proceeds will go to creating a foundation for causes aligned with her passion for art and activism, according to Keegan.

Marina's former high school, Buckingham Browne and Nicols, has established a summer fellowship in her name that will inspire students to explore "artistic pursuits or activist causes." And Yale established its first playwright award, the Marina Keegan Award for Excellence in Playwriting.

At both schools, awardees have already been named.

"We did not want an entire school year to go by without having our daughter's spirit continue to breathe through the acts and deeds of others," said Keegan. "This is what helps heal me."

Marina 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.

She was active in the Yale Democrats and the Occupy Morgan Stanley campaign.

Her mother said she, too, had been inspired by her daughter, who, like her younger brother Pierce, 18, was born with Celiac disease.

She volunteers with her son's charity, Pierce's Pantry, a gluten-free food bank. Their goal is to partner with national organizations to provide allergy-free foods for disaster relief.

Marina's father, Kevin Keegan, said the year since his daughter's death had been like an "emotional roller coaster."

"Regardless of what your son or daughter has accomplished, it's the same for any parent who loses a child," said Kevin Keegan, 56. "It's just horrible and what I've realized is that it happens every day to somebody."

Keegan said Marina would likely have not liked all the attention on her postmortem successes.

"She is looking down and laughing, 'Have you had enough now, Dad?'" said Keegan. "She never allowed anyone to brag about her accomplishments."

One of the last times he saw his daughter, Keegan told her how proud he was of her. "She said, 'I am going to live for love -- the rest will take care of itself.' That was her philosophy."

"More than anything, she was a great daughter and a lot of fun to be with," he said. "She was a comet who shone very brightly, then she was gone."

"Utility Monster" will open at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre on May 25.