An Exceptional Friend and Talent Remembered
By Katie Thompson ’12 - On Professor Jessica Modaff’s office door hangs a poster advertising a recital that Evangelyna Etienne planned to perform in this coming April. For her, it represents Evangelyna’s continual hope for the future as she battled a rare form of cancer.
On Sept. 11, 2011, Evangelyna (Vangie) lost her near four-year battle with the disease but her hope, talent and approach to life is leaving a lasting legacy at Gordon.
“The essence of Vangie and her excitement for her craft is something that will permeate the (music) department,” said Modaff, professor of music theory and a coach in the department.
From Malden, Mass., Vangie was a member of the class of 2012 and celebrated her 21st birthday on Sept. 7. She specialized in opera but had a passion for all kinds of music. According to close friends, Vangie always wanted to learn something new.While some students might bring one piece of new music to work on during a practice session, Vangie would often be working on four or five new pieces.
“Vangie was one of the most naturally gifted students we’veever had and that was matched with an incredible work ethic,” said Modaff.
A music education and performance major, she was president of ALANA (Asian, Latino, African, and Native Americans), a three year member of the college choir and performed in two theatre department productions. Last year Vangie coordinated Gordon’s Gospel Fest. She also sang in the choirs at several local churches and was a substitute for Lyricora, a New England choral ensemble.
In 2008, Vangie won the Handel and Haydn Society’s Candance MacMillen Achtmeyer Award and also won the Society’s Barbara E. Maze Award. She auditioned and was accepted into the Franco American Vocal Academy, which allowed her to perform in France in the summer of 2010. She won the alto scholarship through Eric Whitacre Virtual Choir that gave her the opportunity to perform in the concert version of “Paradise Lost” in New York City last summer.
Matt Slipp ’14, a music major, was a member of the college choir with Vangie and was a cast mate in both “Into the Woods” and “Pirates of Penzance.” Slipp described the music department as a tight knit community accustomed to spending nearly every day together.
“To lose someone who was such an integral part of the department is hard,” he said. “Our souls have been so changed by her.”
Vangie’s humble and loving spirit always struck Slipp. He never saw her sickness take away her fun-loving spirit. According to Slipp, no matter the situation Vangie always had the ability to laugh or make a joke.
Jeff Miller, chair of the theatre arts department, directed Vangie in two theatre productions last year. She played the witch in “Into the Woods” and had the lead female role as Ruth in “Pirates of Penzance.”
“Everything about her impressed me,” he said. “She never once complained and was remarkably humble for all of the gifts she had.”
Despite battling her illness throughout these productions and routinely being in and out of the hospital, Vangie’s cancer did not define her. According to Miller, she was incredibly resilient and determined to fulfill her roles in the shows.
“Vangie was completely engaged in her work,” he said. “She always had the courage to continue, and I am awestruck by the bravery of that.”
For Miller and many others, Vangie’s quiet courage and integrity, along with a joyful and loving heart, are what they will cherish most about her.
Close friend and fellow music major Erica Roark ’12, admired Vangie’s genuine heart to help others. Even during her last week in the hospital, Roark said that Vangie was constantly checking up on how everyone else was doing. She saw her illness as a day-to-day challenge and never wallowed in self-pity.
“She recognized her strength was from God,” said Roark. “No matter what happened, Vangie knew that she was victorious and that this life wouldn’t be the end.”
Katie Iatesta ’12, and Emma Gibbins ’12, both music education majors, were close friends of Vangie and the three lived together for the past two years. They especially loved Vangie’s fun-loving, joyful spirit.
“No matter what, Vangie was all about having a good time and lightening the mood,” said Iatesta. “Whether she was singing or performing, she wanted to have fun with it.”
For Gibbins, Vangie’s personality was one that everyone should learn from.
“Her humor made my day at any given moment,” she said. “She had witty, raw honesty and it was always out of love.”
Iatesta and Gibbins were the beneficiaries of one of Vangie’s other talents: cooking. Vangie considered attending culinary school before deciding on Gordon, and according to her friends was an amazing cook who loved preparing meals for others.
“She cooked all the time,” said Gibbins. “Throughout chemotherapy when she didn’t feel well enough to eat or cook, she watched the Food Network like it was her job.”
For her friends, the enjoyment Vangie found in cooking for them is just another testament to who she was.
“She was so talented but never wanted credit,” said Iatesta. “Her perspective was that God gave her a gift and she was going to use it to glorify Him.”
And that she did.
The funeral service for Evangelyna Etienne will be held Saturday, September 24th at 10:00 AM in the A. J. Gordon Memorial Chapel.
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