Katherine Ann Olson '06 was murdered on Thursday afternoon. A shocked community is grieving, connected to a tragedy that no one can explain, let alone come to terms with. But as a community, our reaction has spoken volumes about what a community is. Our community is tangible.
Every person tied to our institution has been affected by this tragedy. Katherine was one of us, a single individual who happened to love to act and speak Spanish, to be around and influence others and to travel. A loss not only brings a community together, but redefines what a community is.
What if we lived our lives with the idea that our individual presence impacts everyone that we interact with, that thousands of people would be deeply saddened and affected if one day, we were no longer here? Katherine belonged to many communities of individuals, and St. Olaf is honored to be one of them.
As a community, we set goals. We aim for success, for peace, for happiness. We might say that the St. Olaf education preaches a diverse understanding of the world in which we live. We could conclude that these are collective understandings, ones that we strive for as part of our day-to-day lives. But what would a community be without individuals to suggest what is important and valuable?
American culture urges us to be involved in a community, if not multiple. But too often, we may lose some part of ourselves at the expense of others. Striking a balance between this expense and maintaining our own unique sense of identity can be challenging. But Katherine figured it out.
That is why it is so hard to come to terms with and understand Katherine's death. She was one of us, an Ole, doing "Ole" things. In a conversation with her brother Karl, she expressed where she thought she fit in her community.
"I'm learning in my classes that interpreters are supposed to facilitate conversations between two people, but they are also supposed to be invisible," Katherine said. "And I've decided I don't want to be an interpreter because I don't want to be invisible."
Katherine understood community. She knew that her simple presence could touch and influence everyone she interacted with, during every hour of every day. To be "invisible" would contradict the ideal of community -- communities cannot be built by a collection of invisible individuals.
Live your life, as Katherine did, by pursuing your interests and goals knowing that you have an impact. You, not your group, not St. Olaf as a whole -- but you.
When you remove one part of a community, even from a rather large one like St. Olaf, the entire community is affected, as if you removed that one small Jenga piece unsuccessfully.
Our community is defined by the many Jenga pieces, holding and supporting each other.