Read Nate Kirkland ’11’s obituary and tributes from two Dickinson community members
The Late Nate Kirkland ’11—a Rare Talent and Inspiration
Nathaniel Kirkland died Jan. 10 of accidental drowning in Guatemala while on a Dickinson service trip. The English major also was a resident advisor in Buchanan Hall, a Bonner Leader, founder of the Multimedia Club and member of Serve the World.
Below is a tribute delivered on campus in February by Justin Marquis ’93, Nate’s supervisor for his multimedia work with the Office of College Relations, as well as a poem by Poet-in-Residence Adrienne Su, which she read at the service.
I’m honored to have known Nate Kirkland, even briefly, and I am even more honored to share in celebrating his life.
I’m an English teacher at heart and I make movies for a living. Reading and telling stories are two things that I hold dear, and even though my part in the story of Nate’s life is very small, I think it helps people to see the whole story of who this amazing young man was.
Pierce Bounds ’71 (the Dickinson photographer) and I have an informal log of the star students on campus. These are students who we start to recognize during their junior or senior year as the most engaged, outstanding students who we come to know because they are at all of the events we cover. Let’s just say that Nate Kirkland jumped onto our radar screen much earlier than most students—in fact, the moment he stepped on campus.
I first officially met Nate during a scholarship dinner that I was filming. As it happens, fate put us together at the same table for the meal and I was immediately taken with his smile, energy and eagerness to talk about film, projects he wanted to do, scripts he was writing and clubs he wanted to start. At just about the same time, probably a little before this, another student showed me a short film that Nate was in where he was playing a homosexual character to help educate his peers about what it’s like to be a member of a largely hidden minority group. Again, right around this time, and still during Nate’s first year of college, a student I had in my documentary film class, David Montross ’10, told me that I had to meet this amazing guy who wanted to start a Multimedia Club and was writing all these movie scripts. That, of course, was Nate.
What I didn’t realize until I began hearing other people’s stories after Nate’s death was that he was, as one student put it, “superhuman.” He seemed to be simultaneously present in hundreds of people’s lives whenever they needed him—helping with computer problems, changing tires, guiding his residents through the tough transition to college life (he was also an RA) or just smiling and listening.
I realized pretty quickly that, if I could manage to get funding to hire an assistant, this would have to be the guy. I knew he would bring an excitement and freshness to my work that I could never capture.
So eventually I did get the OK to hire a student worker at the start of this academic year, and Nate did bring a spark to my work. In fact, he brought a spark to my whole life. I can’t recall any other student and few people in my life who seemed so genuinely friendly and dedicated to their friends. Nate made me feel like I was his best friend and the most important person in the world every time we talked, which was very often, as he’d call on the phone or pop into my office almost daily, just to chat about the Multimedia Club or work, or what he wanted to do after graduating from Dickinson.
And everyone I’ve heard from since his death has said the same thing. He made everyone he met feel loved and needed.
I think that this ability to engage people and enrich each one of our lives is a rare and brilliant talent … but it was far from Nate’s only rare and brilliant talent.
Nate only made a few videos in his time working with me, but every one of them, no matter how boring the subject, showed what a brilliant talent he had for film. One of the first pieces that he did for me was a two-minute video of the 1000th football game in Dickinson’s history. For me, this was just another short video for our YouTube channel. For Nate, it was a serious production that necessitated using special effects and a carefully chosen musical score and for which he braved the sidelines of the game to get the perfect shots, which he had a great eye for.
He was truly driven to be great, and I believe that he would have been, if given the opportunity. As I told people before his death, Nate was my best hope of being thanked at the Academy Awards someday.
Like any great book, the story of Nate Kirkland’s life has something to tell us, aside from the obvious thing that anyone who met him knows: that this was an exceptional, gifted and incredibly generous young man. My short time knowing Nate taught me how to live fully and appreciate every minute of life and how to strive for greatness and to make the most of every single opportunity that presents itself no matter how small or who may or may not notice. I will, and I think we all should, hold Nate’s short time on this planet as a standard by which to measure and try to live our own lives.
When I read a great book, I never want to get to the last chapter, for when you do, you are required to say goodbye to characters you have grown to love and cherish. I only knew Nate for a little more than a year, but the memory of his smile and passion for life will be with me forever as an inspiration and a guide for how to live my own life. I cannot turn the last page in the book of Nate Kirkland’s life. His story and legacy will go on as long as someone he touched in life remembers him, and there are so many of us that his story will go on for a very long time to come.
Justin Marquis ’93 is the Web and multimedia specialist for the college and advisor to the Multimedia Club.
To a Student Dying Young for Nate
My job was to prepare you, to send you into your life
knowing what to read – because no one has time
to read everything – and knowing what to write.
Even if you chose not to use them, you’d have tried
the ancient forms, learned how meaning dwells in rhyme.
My job was to prepare you, to send you into your life,
which gleamed not just with youth but with the light
that surrounds the exceptions, those unresigned
to the brevity of things. Assigning what to write,
I said “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”
might help: a son who asks his father not to die.
My job was to prepare you for the rest of your life,
so I tended to forget you were already in it, like
us your elders, running down the allotted time,
though reading everything and learning what to write.
Luckily you were the wiser, accepting each day and night
as a gift upon a gift, which is the gift you leave behind.
My job was to prepare you, to send you into your life
knowing what to read. Instead, you teach me what to write.
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