Editor’s Column: What Death Can Teach Us

As we celebrate 150 years of The Colgate Maroon-News, I would like to take the time to reflect on another milestone. That is, a personal milestone I encountered during my editorial internship at The Colgate Scene, our alumni magazine, this semester. From writing about Colgate students’ on-campus achievements to archiving articles from past issues in the database, I initially saw this internship as an opportunity to expand on my story-telling capabilities as well as push the boundaries of print journalism. However, it wasn’t until I started composing The Colgate Scene’s “In Memoriam” when I learned a valuable life lesson. Although death is a morbid topic, it can teach us about human accomplishment and a life well lived. 

When I first arrived at The Colgate Scene in February, I, along with other interns, was assigned the daunting task of writing deceased notices on alumni, current and former faculty members, honorary degree recipients and staff members who passed away in recent years. For a 20-year-old college student who has barely started navigating young adulthood, I wondered how I was expected to bring these people’s lives to justice when my life had only just begun. Although it didn’t appear to be a difficult endeavor, writing obituaries comes with great responsibility. A well-written death announcement not only has to act as a platform for communicating life achievements, but it must also be handled with deference, accuracy and suitability. Even though I had no idea how I was going to approach this project, I knew one thing was for certain – it was my duty to be true to the person I was writing about. 

Over the course of my two-hour shift, I focused my attention on the numerous files pertaining to Colgate alumni. From Nathaniel A. MacDonald ’44, who went to the United States Air Force Medical Corps after receiving his medical degree, to Jonathan M. Klarfield ’60, who taught as a professor of journalism for more than 40 years at Boston University, I noticed a consistent pattern in each document. Famous or not, each individual lived incredible and comfortable lives and made something of themselves in some capacity or another. Each person I researched contributed something positive to the fabric of life, and I believe we can all gain perspective from these lives well led. 

After a couple weeks of writing and editing the “In Memoriam,” I recognized one lesson that is as simple as it is urgent. While it’s not fun to think about your own passing, obituaries allow us to not take life for granted. As Colgate students, we sometimes get so caught up in our course work, extracurricular activities or job searches that we ultimately forget that it’s okay not to have everything figured out. People like Nathaniel A. MacDonald ’44 and Jonathan M. Klarfield ’60 proved that there is more experience to be gained once we enter the real world. 

Although I was nervous to embark on the journey of writing obituaries, learning about the Colgate community was a great way to commence my internship. Not only do obituaries serve as inspirations for what truly matters, but they also act as exercises that clarify what a life worth living means. Perhaps we should not look at obituaries with sadness, but instead use them as sources of guidance. I don’t reflect on death often, but when I do, I think about living a life filled with compassion. Therefore, as you all go about your daily lives, I ask that you stop and consider how you can use your talents to make a difference. Because it is certainly nice to see death handled as a celebration of life. 

Contact Veronica Chen at [email protected].