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the Boston Globe

Famous Women Give Voice to Slain Student's Legacy

Megan Tench

Michelle Gardner-Quinn wanted to make protecting the environment her life's work. As a young college student, she traveled to Costa Rica, Brazil, and South Africa to study nature in its purest forms. She was an avid supporter of Al Gore and his warnings about global warming. And last October, as a senior at the University of Vermont, she wrote a class essay expressing the joys of "digging in the earth," and her "strong connection to the natural cycles of creation."

Two days after she submitted her paper, the 21-year-old was kidnapped, brutally raped, and strangled to death. 0720 04

But now her words live on, and they come from the mouths of celebrities, famous political activists, even British royalty.

Gardner-Quinn's essay, first read as part of her eulogy and later published in her college's quarterly magazine, can be found in a short film featuring famous women, such as actresses Meg Ryan and Kate Hudson and activist Tipper Gore . Each wears white, standing against a black backdrop, and reads Gardner-Quinn's words while holding a framed photograph of her.

The video was presented at the July 7 Live Earth concert at Giants Stadium outside New York and is now circulating on the Internet via YouTube, with more than 2,600 hits so far. Gardner-Quinn's mother, Diane, who also appears in the video, said she is touched that her child's lifelong goals have survived her tragic end.

"I am feeling very pleased," she said yesterday. "This is something Michelle would have wanted very, very badly."

It was family weekend at the university when Gardner-Quinn disappeared. The campus was shaken, Gardner-Quinn's fam ily from Arlington, Va., kept vigil, and students, volunteers, and local police, the FBI, and National Guard scoured the Burlington area.

One student's parents who happened to be visiting that weekend were Susan Smalley and Kevin Wall, a producer of Live 8 and Live Earth, said Damon Cason, a Live Earth Films producer who directed the video.

"The Walls were there visiting," Cason said. ". . . They had known about the disappearance."

A week later, hikers found Gardner-Quinn's body near a rural gorge. Brian L. Rooney , 37, of Richmond, Vt., has pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder and is awaiting trial.


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Through her son Tom, Susan Smalley kept on top of the developments, Cason said, and when Gardner-Quinn's essay was published in the magazine earlier this year , she and her husband starting thinking.

"I read it," Cason said. "Quite frankly I found Michelle's words so incredibly poignant, direct, and personal. It wasn't: 'We need to do this. We need to do that.' It was really much more what she thought she needed to do as a human being."

Cason bounced around ideas with colleagues, and one thing became clear. "This is a woman's story and it needs to be a woman's story, and it should be read by different professional women from all over the world," he said.

He traveled from Los Angeles to New York, Washington, D.C., and London to film the women who agreed on short notice to read excerpts for the film.

"I believe in upholding reverence for all life," reads actress Goldie Hawn .

"I believe that humanity has a responsibility to the earth and to the life that we share our experiences with," follows Sarah Ferguson , the duchess of York.

The video ends with Gardner-Quinn's mother saying, "And I believe that my daughter can still change the world."

To Diane Gardner-Quinn, the video ensures that her daughter's legacy will live on.

"Michelle is a very humble person and didn't go for splashy things," she said. "She was pretty mature about who she was and where she was going . . . she never would have imagined this."

© Copyright 2007 The Boston Globe

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