Michelle Gardner-Quinn

Michelle Gardner-Quinn saw the world though an exceptional lens, where the mundane became beautiful, problems became challenges and no boundaries or limits existed. Her contagion? An honest exuberance for life that infected the friends she made all over the world. Michelle was intensely introspective, holding herself to the highest personal standards, yet outgoing and pragmatic about global and community issues. “I was struck that she felt such a deep and personal connection to nature, and yet she was equally concerned with the well-being of people, of human communities,” said Cicilia Danks, Michelle’s professor of Environmental Studies while at the University of Vermont. Intensely independent from a young age, Michelle attended HB Woodlawn, an alternative magnet school for grades 6-12. HB Woodlawn encourages students to design their own educational experience, a philosophy Michelle lived by her entire life. She enrolled at Goucher College, in Baltimore after graduating high school, but her adventurous spirit kept her far from campus. Michelle traveled abroad to Costa Rica, Brazil and South Africa, studying, among other things, the peculiarities of giant swamp otters. Michelle transferred to UVM in part because of the freedom it allowed her in individually designing a combined Environmental Studies and Latin American Studies major.Her best friend of eight years, UVM senior Tommy Lang, and a life long love of Vermont and snowboarding also contributed to Michelle’s decision to transfer to UVM.”She was awesome at snowboarding” Lang said. Michelle often visited Lang in Vermont, and always impressed him with her talent and nerve on the mountain. “I remember pushing her to do more things, I taught her how to board slide and do rails,” Lang said. “She was great, a goofball on the hill, we would be having snowball fights while going down the trails,” Lang said.As soon as Michelle came to Vermont this fall, she hit the outdoors. She elected to do a six-day Trek program with nine other UVM students the week before the semester started. While hiking the Green Mountains and sliding down Mt. Mansfield, Michelle made many devoted friends.Upon finishing Trek and starting classes, Michelle and her friends from Trek became a loose group, picking up more friends along the way. Adam Briere, a friend from Trek, described Michelle as a dynamic part of the group, “We all had different backgrounds; Michelle brought a lot of ridiculous wisdom to our group.” That ridiculous wisdom and her hilarious and funky sense of humor added to Michelle’s magnetism. She was lighthearted, but always concerned with serious issues. Danks remembers her as “a happy, outgoing environmentalist, ready to engage tough problems and not get bogged down in the doom and gloom.”Julia Martin, another friend from Trek, loved Michelle’s clear mind, among other traits. “I understood the way she thought,” Martin said. “Michelle was passionate about living life to the fullest.” Martin and Michelle spent time exploring Burlington on bikes and going to north beach to jump off the cliffs. “She was one of those people, who had a lot of ideas, but there is only so much time in the day,” Martin recalled of Michelle’s ambitious scheduling. “That was a joke about Michelle, to be casually late to everything,” Martin said, laughing at the memory. “When she graduated, she would have done a lot.” Lang remembers Michelle as an exceptional photographer with an ability to find beauty and interest in everyday objects. “She had a really good eye at looking at ordinary things from a different angle,” Lang said. “That is what Michelle was about,” Briere added, “Bringing ordinary things to light for you.” Briere smiled and said, “Like how terrible food is, Michelle was a vegan and she was always guilt-tripping me into thinking about changing.” Keri Johnson, a student professor of the class, Yogic Environmental Philosophy, that Michelle greatly enjoyed, described her as “an environmentalist and a practicing yogi, she saw beauty in the smallest things.” Michelle inspired Johnson to write a poem, helping her to place Michelle now that she is gone, “Her shining soul permeates our flesh, the wind, the trees, the soil and all creatures of life…She is here right now, surrounding us, she is in our practice, in the moments, in the smiles, in the tears.” Michelle grew up in Arlington Va., across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. with her parents Diane Gardner Quinn and John-Charles Quinn. She was part of a tight knit group of friends who spent every summer at the community swimming pool, Donaldson Run. “I have known her longer than I can even remember,” said Melissa McCracken, a life long friend of Michelle’s, who remembered calling Michelle “Mimi” when they swam in the baby pool together. The girls moved up to the bigger pool, then joined the swim team and eventually became lifeguards together at Donaldson Run. Michelle has two older half siblings, Yasmine and Paul Rassam. “She was carefree, didn’t care what others thought. She was not interested in owning designer things, she went her own way. She was so passionate about art, and music,” said McCraken. In addition to her passion for travel, friends and the environment, Michelle played the cello, sang in her church choir, and was excellent soccer player and swimmer. “Michelle is the kind of woman who would want her actions and what she did to stand out more then what she was,” Keri said.