I knew I wanted to go to St. Olaf from the moment I stepped into the theatre building during my first visit. The students were friendly, genuine, supportive. I felt like I could grow up there, become the student, the artist and the person I had only dreamt about. I felt it instantly. It was the only school to which I applied. Four years later, I graduated with honors and distinction. I walked across to accept my diploma with all my family taking pictures, my friends cheering and my Pappy, my theatre mentor, slapping the stage as I crossed. I had traveled across the world, worked on dozens of plays, hundreds of scenes and monologues. There were countless all nighters in the theatre building, running around on the catwalk, smoking, drinking, writing papers, working through homework for Gateways to Math or Intro to Psych or Creative Non Fiction, building models and sets, reading scripts until your brain felt like it would burst. I had screamed with joy and wept in the arms of those I love. As lofty and dramatic as it may all seem, I had indeed grown up there.
People, students, will criticize St. Olaf for the insular bubble that's built around you. For four years, you have very little concept of the world outside of the hill. You are in the minority if you are not a blonde Lutheran who wears Norwegian sweaters and sings in liturgical choirs. You are pumped full of this ideal that you can take on and accomplish anything. Then you are thrown into society and it beats you down and you realize your dreams are not necessarily available for you to attain. But you, I, keep working and keep fighting. I will not stop dreaming. I lost my drive for theatre but I cannot put down my camera. I would never regret the 15 years I spent in the theatre world and dedicating myself to that major. Everything I learned in that program made me the artist I am today. Theatre will always be a part of who I am. To me, this school that inspired me was home. It was family. You can't help but connect with the people you create with. Whether or not you left as one of their best friends or best enemies, they were still very much a part of what you had become. We were this small, wacky community who bled for the stage. We were bound by those plays we stayed up all hours producing. We screamed out at each other, yelled in the Caf too much, gossiped too much, made out too much, drank too much, sang too much, worked too much. If someone who didn't go to St. Olaf is thrown into the environment, you can't help but see how we were bound to each other. Taco, my Arizona born roommate of two years, called me today to make sure I was okay, to talk about my school and program that she had been thrown into countless times. Even if you weren't really close to a fellow theatre major, the school and program were small enough that if someone attended at the same time you did, you knew them. My BA in Theatre from St. Olaf College is part of my Jonesie family tree.
One of our family members has died. Violently, inexplicably murdered because she answered an ad on craigslist for a nanny position.
Katherine Olson, 1983-2007
I got into my car on Saturday after photographing my friend Justin at a skate park. There was a message from Shipley telling me to call him back immediately. His voice was scratched and desperate on the phone. One of our Olaf family members had been murdered.
She was three years younger than me. We weren't very close but I remember that smile, her mass of curly red hair and the joy she emanated. I have a vivid memory of seeing her in the theatre office, bounce in as I stood in the doorway by Pappy's office. I stood there often, almost everyday. The regular hoodlums always stopped by to pass the time. Katherine made you happy. Friendly. Beautiful. Bright. She was the sweetest burst of light and joy.
This image, one that is all over the papers and the internet, captures her perfectly...
Katherine Olson is gone. I cannot even fully grasp the magnitude of the disgusting tragedy. One detail in particular haunts me. I think she suffered tremendously. I pray she didn't. I hope with everything I have that she didn't. It's not fair or right and it hurts me to the core. The Oles need one another right now.
It's times like this where I wish that church going religion was a part of my life, that I could believe in something concrete. I want to know that there's a heaven and hell. I've never believed in the death penalty but I want whomever did this to Katherine to suffer. He doesn't deserve friends, family or even a future. He doesn't deserve to breathe in air or taste food or laugh ever again. A complete stranger ripped Katherine from this world when she was only 24 years old. My tears fall and heart hurts for her family, her close friends that would have sacrificed anything for her, those many people she touched in her short life.
Today, I feel it. I am reading her memorial facebook thread, the hundreds of members whose lives she has touched leave dedications that soar. Maybe it hits me because I'm deliriously tired and sitting in my apartment alone listening to my music, my endless companion.
Maybe I don't go to church or have a religion in the traditional sense but I believe in the spirit of life. That energy that pulsates through your guts and mind and out into the world, into another person, can't disappear when the body is gone. It's electricity that's released into the air, maybe the heavens. I believe with all my heart that Katherine will once again be with those she loves.
Katherine's soul will never fade. Her memory is eternal.
I have listened to Mark Olson's Clifton Bridge over and over again today, maybe 100 times. It means that much more to me now. My favorite song of the year that represents my city and community and family. Listen to it. After I watched my city break in two as a bridge and our citizens fell into the river, after I saw one of my own fall months later, this song is that much more precious to me.
My mother paid me the highest compliment a couple weeks ago. She said I was capable of such great happiness. I will forever take that with me. Thank you endlessly to those who inspire me and help me to thrive, to every wacky citizen with whom I dance and sing and create.
Embrace love and joy. Embrace your family and friends. Embrace life and your passions. This could have been any of us. Everything could be gone in an instant. Cherish it with all your heart. To every single person that has touched my life, from the moment I was born, this song is for you. Tonight, I play this song especially for you, Katherine.
My thoughts and prayers are with Katherine Olson, her family and her friends. Her future is not for this earth but somewhere far greater.
There is a hope in our hearts. There is a future in our soul.
~Clifton Bridge, for Katherine
To life, to love, in no particular order...
I am SERIOUSLY blessed. Thank you.