In Memoriam: Tamar Kaplan CM'14
Today at 2 p.m., Claremont McKenna College will hold a service to remember the life of Tamar Kaplan CM ’14. Kaplan died Jan. 6 due to injuries she sustained in a car accident while traveling in Bolivia with Haley Patoski CM ’14 after their semesters abroad.
Tamar’s parents, Daniel Kaplan and Maya Hanna, and her younger sisters, Netta and Liat, will be present at the service, which will take place at McKenna Auditorium and will be followed by a reception at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum. Tamar's parents encourage members of the 5C community to approach them today.
“We’re there to share that part of Tamar’s life, not the way we wanted to share it, but it’s the only thing we can do at this point, and so we absolutely want people to be with us during that time,” Daniel Kaplan said.
Family and friends remember Tamar as compassionate and fun-loving.
“I miss that sort of sunshine that she brought into a room,” Hanna said. “She just was happy, funny, and many a conversation was started, ‘Do you want to hear something funny?’”
“She could make you laugh with something completely random and goofy,” McKenzie Javorka CM ’14 said. “It’s impossible to sum up my friendship with her and how much I admired her, but she really was a role model for me in a lot of ways ... She was just a true friend in every sense of the word.”
Tamar was very close with her parents and sisters.
“I don’t think we have any regrets about our relationship with Tamar,” Daniel Kaplan said. “We loved her, she loved us, we were very open about that and comfortable about that.”
She was also close with her boyfriend, Talon Powers, a student at the University of Minnesota Law School. He said he first got to know Tamar when they were working at a debate camp after her senior year of high school.
“I talked to her every single day for almost the last three years, except for those times when she was out traveling in Ecuador,” he said. “It was every single day, oftentimes for several hours.”
“They were very, very close," Daniel Kaplan said. "You don’t get closer.”
He added, “There are very few who disliked Tamar. Everyone loved her, because she was so open and so kind and so friendly, so willing to make you feel better about yourself.”
Laila Heid CM ’14, who lived in a suite with Tamar last year, said, “There was a day where I thought no one else was in the suite and I was crying really hard ... and I left the room briefly, and when I came back, she had gotten me a giant piece of fudge. It lasted me like a month. And she left me a little sticky note that said ‘Please don’t be sad, you’re great, I love you.’ It was super thoughtful of her.”
Tamar’s friends described her love of animals, her constantly changing nail polish colors (she subscribed to a website that sent her a new color each week), her ability to convince friends to read her favorite Game of Thrones novels, and her obsession with cats and cat memes. Her closest friends called her "TamCat."
Her friends also said that she loved eating chicken fingers, the Galileo sandwich from Jay's Place at Harvey Mudd College, and the cheese served regularly at the Athenaeum, which will be featured at her memorial reception today.
“I laughed more with her and with Haley [Patoski] than with anyone else,” Javorka said. “That being said, she challenged me intellectually and she would bring up points just in everyday conversation and in arguments and news stories that I had never even heard about ... One of the most incredible things about her was just her intellect and her knowledge and the passion that she carried for all of those issues.”
Tamar was a major in the philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) program, which is limited to 14 students each year.
“The way the CMC PPE program is set up is it’s competitive, so it tends to get a very strong pool of students, but she was just one of the absolute strongest,” said Paul Hurley, who teaches the philosophy seminar in the PPE program.
“Tamar was kind of a trip,” he said. “She had these razor-sharp verbal skills that had been trained through debate. She was this diminutive woman, and you could tell that she was used to sometimes being underestimated initially by people she was engaging with, so she’d come up with some really effective strategies for disabusing people. They only made that mistake once.”
Hurley said that Tamar was a driving force in her PPE class.
“In an environment like that, you start formulating your position or arguments with the thought of how to defend them against Tamar, because you knew what was coming, and it was going to be good,” he said.
“She’s the coolest nerd I’ve ever known. That’s for sure,” Lynsey Chediak CM ‘14 said. “I guess the thing I can’t emphasize enough is the sheer knowledge that she had about every single topic you could think of. I have never met anyone who was as smart as her in my life.”
Tamar was a member of CMC’s top-competing mock trial team and was an avid member of her high school debate group, taking home a state title in policy debate as a senior in high school.
She was also a student manager for SOURCE (Student Outreach Utilizing Resources and Community Exchange), a student-run organization at CMC that provides consulting services to non-profit groups.
“She just had this incredibly keen sense of social justice,” Hurley said.
“I think it seemed so obvious to her that the life she was going to lead was only going to be meaningful if it benefited other people,” he added. “You know, people get on their soapboxes and say that, but she was just one of those people who it seemed so obvious you didn’t have to say it.”
“She was going to be that one alumni that comes to speak at the Ath,” Chediak said. “I would always joke about that with her, that I’m going to come see you at the Ath in 20 years ... It was just a given that she was going to be somebody awesome.”
“She seemed generally to me, quite fearless and ready to graduate to the next step in her independence, and this was evident from a very young age,” Hanna said. “The only thing ever she seemed to kind of be afraid of was spiders.”
Her adventurous spirit showed while she was studying Spanish in Ecuador.
“She had a bucket list, and she was obsessed with crossing stuff off her list,” said Patoski, who visited Tamar with Chediak in December to spend time together and travel the continent.
“She jumped off a bridge, she ate ants, she did rappelling down waterfalls, she hiked volcanoes ... Everyone on her [study abroad program] called it Tamar-ing when you crossed stuff off your bucket list. She was just obsessed with doing everything,” Patoski said.
In November, Tamar wrote an article for CMC’s online student publication The Forum entitled “What I (Don’t) Miss About Green Beach.” In the article, she wrote, “Ecuador is an amazing country; I’m not sure I’ll ever get another opportunity to touch a wild sea turtle while snorkeling or hike into a water-filled volcano crater ... I still can’t believe how many amazing things are packed into such a small country.”
Tamar and Patoski were traveling through Bolivia after their semesters abroad when the car accident occurred, leaving Tamar in critical condition. Patoski, who was bruised but largely unharmed, helped her get to a hospital in Potosi.
“Haley was incredibly brave because it’s an unfamiliar circumstance, both medically, and of course, in another country, and even more than that, in a very poorly resourced part of another country,” Daniel Kaplan said.
He traveled to Potosi to help Tamar and ended up trying to get her to a hospital in La Paz.
During the trip, Tamar’s condition worsened and she was taken to the nearest hospital, where she slipped into a coma and died.
“Her injuries were just too grave,” Daniel Kaplan said. “In many parts of the U.S. they wouldn’t have been able to deal with them ... and certainly not in Bolivia.”
"Tamar was in a remote place in a very impoverished country," he added. "It’s such a tragedy that they had so little to work with, but everyone I met was caring, and kind, and trying to be helpful.”
He said that he was appreciative of CMC’s help after the accident.
“During the day that Tamar was injured, [Director of Off-Campus Study] Kristen Mallory was working on Tamar’s behalf to find out what could be done for her medically and to push for evacuation,” he said.
He also said he was in contact with Dean of Students Mary Spellman.
“I remember very well talking to her from Bolivia,” he said. “I know that they have a lot of students to look after at CMC, but we certainly felt that they knew Tamar and they took a personal interest.”
Spellman, Mallory, and Director of Annual Giving Andrew Brewer, along with CMC alumni and current students, attended the service held for Tamar on Jan. 14 in her hometown, St. Paul, Minn.
“It was very touching to have so many students to come out to Minnesota for the memorial service,” Hanna said.
Now, to honor Tamar, her friends would like to help realize one of the dreams she had while at CMC: establishing a designated space for SOURCE on CMC’s campus.
“She always Google Chatted me and e-mailed me about how she wouldn’t graduate until SOURCE had a room,” Kate Johnson CM ’13 said. She said that they are trying to get a space opened called the Tamar Kaplan Center for SOURCE, and that students and the administration seem supportive of the idea.
“I think that it really is the most proper way to memorialize her, because Tamar was so productive in everything she did, that I think that even in her passing, a memorialization that is productive would be proper,” Johnson said.
“That was the one thing that is Tamar to me—somehow everything always works out," Chediak said. "There was just an underlying Tamar-ness of somehow no one knows how she did it, but she always got everything that she did done, done well, and had fun, all at the same time ... and that is the mystery of Tamar."
She added, "I knew that no matter what happened in my life, I knew that she was going to be there for me, and that she was going to be somebody truly, truly amazing, and the most accomplished person I had ever met in my life.”
“She approached the future with a sense of confidence and joy,” Daniel Kaplan said. “Her plans were evolving, and we understood that. And that was part of the joy, was sharing in those evolving plans, and all of the possibilities that she faced.”
“That would be the biggest thing that we miss,” he said. “We have our memories. Those are something we have. There were many things we were looking forward to, and it’s very difficult.”