In the heart of Cornell’s campus yesterday afternoon, the family and friends of Michelle A. Evans ’01 remembered the life of a student described as exemplary, dedicated and compassionate.
They gathered in the Stimson Hall Plaza to dedicate a memorial bench for Evans, who died tragically last March in a bus accident on campus.
“To all her pursuits, Michelle brought natural talent, energy and deep commitment. She had a self confidence and maturity well beyond her years,” said President Hunter R. Rawlings III. “And in her all too brief time at Cornell, she touched many with her kindness and with her personal warmth.”
Evans was praised as a humanitarian and a devoted scholar who set an example for others.
“One of the things I most value about what Michelle did at Cornell is to put so much emphasis upon her intellectual work, her academic work, her close study and [her desire to] excel at Cornell,” Rawlings said. “This is a life that is exemplary — a life that’s not worth simply remembering but a life that is worth emulating.”
Michelle’s father, Paget Evans, commented on his daughter’s “pursuit of excellence.”
“She did really focus on being the best she could be. She constantly challenged herself, pursued her goals with dogged determination, and was never satisfied until she had given her best effort in any project or assignment,” he said.
Evans received top honors throughout her academic career. In high school, she was an All American Scholar, a National Honor Society member and valedictorian of her class.
At Cornell, she had already earned a designation as a Macy’s Scholar, “a competitive program that provides underrepresented minority students with enrichment activities through affiliated medical schools,” according to Rawlings.
He quoted Prof. Elizabeth Adkins-Regan, psychology, with whom Evans worked as a research assistant. “She had star quality,” Adkins-Regan said of Evans.
Family friend Vincent Luke recalled how he had given Evans some words of advice during her campus visit before enrolling.
“The purpose of your being here is to study, excel and graduate with flying colors,” Luke said. “Although Michelle is not here in the flesh, in my book she has certainly fulfilled all three. The dedication ceremony, and the presence of each and everyone, is a testament to that fact.”
“Most of all though, Michelle wanted to make a difference,” Rawlings said.
He read an excerpt from her Cornell application, in which she wrote, “I have always wanted to do work that had a purpose.”
Evans aspired to be a physician, practicing medicine in developing countries after receiving her degree.
“The truest testimony to her is not this bench or whatever words might be said about her today, but instead it is the life she led,” said David Mahon ’01, student-elected trustee and a friend of Evan’s ever since they attended the pre-freshman summer program together.
“We must keep her testimony alive by living our lives as she lived hers — with purpose, with humility, with compassion and with a zest for life and what it had to offer,” Mahon said.
“Michelle stood as an example in every aspect that students knew her. She was a devoted scholar, the trusted friend, the cheerful acquaintance, and a grateful steward of the many talents given to her by God,” Mahon added.
Luke echoed those sentiments.
“Michelle has undoubtedly touched the hearts and the lives of many and has certainly left her footprints in the sand of time,” he said.
“May the bench serve as a reminder of the central role Michelle Evans played in our lives, which she enriched, not simply through her personal friendship with many of you, but through her example of what it means to be an ethical human being who cares about others enough to spend long hours learning academically, intellectually, what needs to be done to make a difference in other people’s lives,” Rawlings said.
“I’ll try to live my life as she did,” said Carlos Almodovar ’01, who attended the ceremony. “She was a beautiful person.”
Rawlings announced that the University is establishing a Michelle A. Evans memorial scholarship that “will be awarded each year to a member of the pre-freshman class as a lasting memorial to Michelle and as an inspiration to those who follow her to Cornell.”
He also encouraged the students at the ceremony to preserve Evans’ memory and teach her example to others.
“And I hope that each of you, when you walk past this corner, you’ll stop, come over here to Michelle’s bench, and if at all possible, introduce this bench to somebody who’s nearby — and to let them know what the bench means to you, and what it should mean to them. Then I think each of us will be making a substantive difference ourselves, and carrying on what Michelle Evans would have wanted us to do.”
The plaque on the bench reads, “In loving memory of Michelle A. Evans ’01. February 8, 1979 — March 16, 2000. Devoted premedical student and dedicated biology major. She wanted to make a difference and she did.”
Archived article by Heather Schroeder