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Gracie Hillman Honors a Friend’s Legacy

Raimondo Partito
Graduate Assistant, Marketing and Communications

Grace Hillman

The loss of a friend and peer can be devastating, particularly when intertwined with academic pursuits and shared aspirations. Grace Hillman, a dedicated senior psychology major, experienced this firsthand when she was entrusted with completing the Psychology Capstone Research of her friend, Paul “Keagan” Jaravata, following his unexpected passing in September 2023. Hillman recently presented the completed work for her Senior Honors Project.

Grace Hillman Keagan Jaravata and Annie BrennanGracie and Keagan's bond was not only one of friendship but also of academic partnership, having grown closer during their time together as psychology majors. “I believe that both Keagan and everyone else I know would expect me to be the one completing this project,” Hillman said. “Keagan and I have always been partners in various endeavors ever since we entered this program together during our sophomore year when he switched majors.”'

A bright and passionate psychology major, Jaravata left an indelible mark on those around him. Hillman recalls their deep friendship, which blossomed further when Jaravata transitioned to psychology, aligning their academic paths, and forging a shared journey of learning and discovery.

“I felt deeply honored when the psychology department specifically approached me,” Hillman said. “This gesture reflected their acknowledgment of the strong bond between Keagan and me, which was well-known throughout the school community. Knowing Keagan's passion for music and art, and how he often shared his favorite songs and artwork with me, I'm grateful for the opportunity to carry on that shared appreciation.” As partners in numerous endeavors, they navigated the complexities of their field together, supporting and challenging each other along the way.

For his Psychology Capstone Research, Jaravata sought to better understand the integration of viewing artwork while listening to music by considering whether music influences emotions while perceiving artwork. As designed by Jaravata, Hillman separated participants into four groups and showed them a PowerPoint presentation consisting of two neural paintings.

The request to take over Jaravata's capstone research project thrust Hillman into a whirlwind of emotions. “There were times when I contemplated giving up because working on a project of this nature was exceptionally challenging,” Hillman recalled. Reflecting on Jaravata's absence, she grappled with the weight of responsibility and the bittersweet task of completing his work. Despite the challenges and uncertainties, Hillman felt a profound sense of duty to honor her peer's memory by seeing his project to fruition.

Transitioning from her usual neuroscience-focused research to psychology, specifically exploring sensory perception, presented Hillman with formidable challenges. She persevered, fueled by her determination to fulfill Jaravata's vision and legacy and supported by the guidance of her mentor, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience Angy Kallarackal, Ph.D. “Dr. Kallarackal provided invaluable guidance at every stage, offering input, assisting in data analysis, and helping determine the most precise data collection methods,” Hillman said.

As Hillman delved deeper into Jaravata's research, she discovered a profound connection to his passions and interests. Their shared appreciation for music and art, and Jaravata’s genuine curiosity about their interaction, became guiding forces in her journey. “We spent considerable time together, and I understood his deep appreciation for music and art, along with his genuine curiosity about their interconnectedness. It was evident to me how significant this exploration was to him,” Hillman shared.

With each step forward, she felt Jaravata's presence, driving her to honor his memory and uphold his legacy in the Mount community. “I sense that he would have preferred me to be the one to complete it, and I felt a personal obligation to honor him by finishing what he started. Given that every psychology poster session was named after him, it feels more meaningful now to have his research represent his final contribution to our field,” Hillman explained. Starting in December 2023, the capstone poster session was renamed as the Paul Keagan Jaravata Psychology and Neuroscience Capstone Poster Session.

In completing Jaravata’s capstone project and presenting the work during the SPARC Festival in April, Hillman not only honored her friend's memory but also ensured that his contributions to the field of psychology would endure. Through perseverance, determination, and a deep sense of purpose, she navigated the challenges of grief and academic pursuit, emerging stronger and more resilient.

“I understand that completing this research won't ensure he's always remembered. However, I hope the school will continue to honor his legacy," Hillman said. "Naming capstones after him and preserving his research is one way to achieve this. He was a significant figure in the Mount community, and it's essential to preserve that memory.”

Raimondo Partito
Graduate Assistant, Marketing and Communications