Memories of Kaitlin Mahr

Compiled by the Lawrentian Staff

Early in my second term teaching at Lawrence, Kaitlin came up to me in front of our Major British Writers class and announced, “Mr. Kaplin, I’d like to present you with a chocolate vagina.” I heard a few gasps (one of which may have been my own), and Kaitlin smiled politely and returned to her seat. Only after a purposeful delay did she explain that the chocolate was designed to promote V-Day and the upcoming performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” in which she was involved. Our class then spent a few minutes discussing the play, that year’s cast, and the significance of V-Day nationwide. I soon learned that this was a classic Kaitlin moment: she loved to make an impact to get a reaction and then talk about an event, an issue, or a text. Her enthusiasm for everything she did brought out the energy and curiosity out in us all.Kaitlin’s curiosity was tempered with a genuine desire to reach out and include people in a group dynamic. She put colleagues and guests at ease with her candid engagement in every discussion. At first I was nervous when she boldly quizzed the “prospies” visiting class about their hometowns, high school experiences, and fashion sense, but she always found common ground between a visitor and at least one member of our class. By the end of the class, those guests would be participating in our literary discussions as comfortably as if they had been in the course from the start.

This term, in the Victorian Age, each member submits one discussion question to the class by e-mail in advance of every meeting. Kaitlin sent many perceptive and thought-provoking questions, and several of them employed the characteristic Kaitlin strategy of making an impact to stimulate analysis. For example, she wrote: “In The Lady of Shalott, do we feel that Sir Lancelot is an asshole?” (Gasp.) But good question. Of course, that question got us all talking, not only about Lancelot’s reaction and the end of the poem, but of gender expectations and subversions, and a host of fascinating literary and cultural issues. In all of our discussions, Kaitlin never let us forget that learning is just as much about feeling as it is about thinking. That is one of the most powerful memories I will have of Kaitlin, the reminder that we think with our emotions, too. And that, for me, is a wonderfully comforting thought, for it means that I will think of her often, every time reading makes me laugh or frown or, especially, gasp.
David Kaplin
Visiting Assistant Professor of English

To the Lawrence Community:
Throughout our lives there is one certainty: that we are mortal. Whether we go to heaven, hell, or we just simply expire to fulfill the circle of life, each and every one of us will die. Recently, the Lawrence campus lost one of its own. Losing someone is a deeply tragic event. No matter who you are, whether you knew Kaitlin well or not at all, you are affected. Though the person who knew her well might be overcome with grief, the person who did not know is left to wonder who she was. I knew Kaitlin only a little, but she was a good person. Kind and considerate, Kaitlin was much of what a Lawrentian should be. Sadly, many on campus have lost their chance to connect with a wonderful human being. We should remember Kaitlin for who she was. If you knew her, remember the time you had with her and the beautiful person she was. If you did not know her, talk to someone who did, say a prayer for her or find a way to honor her memory. Remember that she was a good person and a good friend. This tragedy will come into contrast with upcoming holiday festivities, but perhaps it will give us the chance to reflect and look for all the things we can be thankful for.
Theodore J. Greeley

She had a wonderful sense of humor. That’s what I’ll remember. There are other things too, including some sad ones. But in the end, I think that Kaitlin’s greatest gift was for laughter.
She could turn the tale of a family trip into a full-fledged comedy routine, working each line for just the right effect. She had crack timing, and she seemed to specialize in wickedly arched eyebrows and slow shakes of the head. Still, as Kaitlin talked about crazy hotels in Russia or frantic trips through the Louvre — with Mom heading one way and Dad or little brother going off in another — you could see how much she adored her family and how lucky she knew herself to be.

The same thing used to happen in class. First, there would be sharp questions or bitter complaints about the syllabus. (Why is this book so long? And why does it have to be so boring? Isn’t there something else we could be reading?) Then, a few weeks later, in a paper or a presentation, she’d say something splendid, making it clear that she had read those boring books as carefully and lovingly as anyone ever could.

Here, for example, is Kaitlin writing about her favorite work from Freshman Studies: “I wish I could explain this quote from Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler, but unfortunately I am unable to, just as I was unable to stop the pure rush of panic and dread that came over me when I read these sentences for the first time this summer. These were the sentences that indicated to me that this book was going to be trouble with a capital ‘T.'”

And here she is a little bit later: “Discussion was entertaining, but when I grasped the idea that one of the themes of this book was book was reading, I got very excited because it was such an unusual theme (at least one I had never encountered). The thought that I was in a reading class reading a book about reading was just mind numbing (in a good way, not like an ‘Oh! I drank that ICEE too fast kind of way’).”
For Kaitlin, then, as for other funny people, humor was a way of showing off and acting out. It was also — and this is very rare — a way of making connections, of showing and sharing affection. She loved Calvino, after all, just as she loved reading and her family and her friends at Lawrence. I’m grateful for the chance to have seen that in her, and I know I’ll keep it with me forever.
Timothy Spurgin
Associate Professor of English and Bonnie Glidden Buchanan Professor of English

Kaitlin was a wonderful energetic freshman when I first met her. I was the president of Melee dance troupe and Kaitlin was one of our dancers. She made my senior year memorable and I will always love and miss her smiling face and that sarcastic way about her. I think the best times I had with Kaitlin were during our trip to Bjoumlaut orklunden — she never failed to make us laugh — and then during the final performance for Melee. I will miss her dearly and hope everyone at LU is able to learn from this tragedy, and seek help if they are struggling with depression. I miss you Kaitlin!
Rebecca Heinen
Lawrence ’06

Kaitlin was a student who was always a pleasure to have in class, not just because she was a good student — which she was — but because she had a sense that entertainment was an important part of the learning process. She was always willing to contribute to a class discussion, and usually in ways that help bring a class to life. My first distinct memory of Kaitlin is a perfect example. We were discussing Chaucer’s Wife of Bath in Major British Writers, and I was trying to get the class to recognize the disturbing connection between violence and attraction in her final marriage. The discussion wasn’t really moving forward until Kaitlin offered the observation, “Well, everyone knows that make-up sex is the best.” I do not think this is exactly what Chaucer had in mind, but it helped us to get closer to his meaning and put a smile on our faces at the same time. Her humor, her spontaneity, and her willingness to work hard will all be missed.
Garth Bond
Assistant Professor of English

It’s strange how people touch our lives. I met Kaitlin when we sat next to each other for one of Professor Taylor’s classes. It was not a particularly important interpersonal bond in the grand scheme of things, but still a memorable one. My memory of her is generally filled with mundane chatter about the class and the work, though sitting through a long rant on her and Taylor’s shared ornithophobia [fear of birds] is definitely the most humorous. So, to everyone lucky enough to have had their lives touched by Kaitlin, even in the most ordinary of ways, I grieve with you.
Douglas Whalin
Class of ’07

I was lucky to have Kaitlin in the very first course I taught here at Lawrence. She was everything I have come to expect in Lawrence students–and more. Kaitlin was intellectually curious, hard working, and just a joy to see in my class every day. At a time when everything was new to me, Kaitlin helped me feel right at home, and in the process, helped me become a better teacher. I will miss her very much.
Megan Pickett
Assistant Professor of Physics